Chapter 14: Action, Inaction and Non-Action, Question 1



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Question 1


There is no place in Krishna's philosophy for any spiritual discipline, so the question of disciplining the seven bodies does not arise. The path of discipline is quite different from that of devotion. While discipline is gradual, consisting of stages, devotion is integral and one -- without any stages. Discipline divides man into different bodies and works in stages; devotion does not do anything like this. For the sake of making the spiritual journey in stages, those who believe in discipline have divided the human body into seven parts. Each part is used as a stepping stone to another. But devotion does not believe in dividing man; it accepts him as one piece -- a whole and indivisible entity. Devotion absorbs the devotee wholly and totally into its bosom.

Spiritual discipline has a variety of divisions and subdivisions. One discipline divides man into seven bodies, another divides him into seven chakras or centers. Different disciplines have different ways of dividing and subdividing. But devotion rejects all divisions straightaway, and accepts man in his totality. And it is the total man who is called upon to remember himself. Devotion knows only one thing, remembrance. And you cannot remember a thing piece by piece; either you remember it whole or you don't. One cannot remember himself so that he is part God and part man; if he remembers he remembers totally. The process of remembering is sudden and total; it cannot be piecemeal and gradual. It happens in one sweep, a leap. Remembrance is an explosion.

Discipline has a sequence; devotion has none. For example. you need to recall some name that you have long forgotten. You need it badly, but you can not remember it. The name has been so familiar to you that you wonder... You are simultaneously aware that you know the name, and yet you cannot recall it. You are in a state of perplexity, confusion. You know that you know it -- and yet you fail to remember it. You have completely forgotten it tor the moment. The very word forgetfulness means you forget something you know. You are aware of it at some deeper level of your unconsciousness, yet it fails to communicate with your conscious mind. So you have to build a bridge between these two parts of your mind. What do you do?

You try different ways to recall this once-very-familiar name that you need so urgently. You strain your mind, you scratch your head, you close your eyes and twitch your brows, and yet it goes on eluding you. Nothing works. The more you strain yourself the more difficult it becomes to find it. The more you try, the more tense you become; this tenseness becomes another barrier between you and your mind. A tense mind goes into pieces; a quiet mind collects itself and becomes whole again. Your difficulty is that the more you strain your mind to remember the name, the more you become incapable of doing it. A part of the mind is trying hard to recall it, and another part is simultaneously worrying and cursing itself for its incapacity to do it. Two suggestions, contrary to each other, are being fed into your mind simultaneously, and they are enough to incapacitate it, to paralyze it. They also undermine your self-confidence.

Then some friend comes along and you tell him about your difficulty. He tells you to drop it, and engages you in some conversation which has nothing to do with the name you are trying to remember. You take two cigarettes out of your pocket, and you and your friend begin to smoke talking about trivia. In the meantime you forget your worry about the name. and the wonder of wonder happens: the whole name suddenly pops up and you have it once again.

What has happened? how is it that you remember it suddenly in a state of relaxation. The reason is simple. As soon as you gave up straining yourself for the name, the tension caused by the opposing pulls on the mind just disappeared and you entered into a state of relaxation. Before, your mind was split into two parts -- one which possess the name and the other which wanted to recall it -- and they were fighting with each other. This tension disappeared when your mind was withdrawn from the search for the name and engaged in conversation with your friend. The cigarette added to your relaxation, and the name surfaced. What you had failed to remember with effort came so effortlessly. And when it came it came whole.

I have said this as an illustration this is how our ordinary memory works. Memory is one of the functions of mind which is divided into two parts. one part is called the conscious mind and the other the unconscious, and curiously enough truth the conscious and the unconscious have a hand in the way one's memory functions. We use the conscious mind in our workaday world -- it serves us twenty-four hours of the day. The unconscious mind is used sparingly; it is used whenever we need it. The conscious is the lighted part of the mind, while the unconscious is submerged in the dark. The memory I was speaking about is Lying hidden in the unconscious mind, whose conscious part is trying to remember it. The conscious part of the mind is fighting with its unconscious part, and so long as this fight continues you cannot recall a thing. Remembering is possible only when the fight stops and the two conflicting parts of the mind are put together. Then that which was standing on the doorstep of the unconscious, which made you certain that you knew it, emerges into the conscious and you have it.

Remembering the divine, or what we call self remembering goes even deeper than the unconscious. It is not buried in the unconscious; it is beyond it. There is yet another part of the mind which is called the collective unconscious.

Let us try to understand it in another way. As I said, the conscious is the superficial part of the mind which is lighted, and below it lies the unconscious buried in the dark. Then below the unconscious lies the collective unconscious, and at the bottom lies the cosmic unconscious -- which is the mind of the entire universe, which is the total mind, the universal mind. Remembrance of God or self-remembering happens at the level of the cosmic mind, which is the ultimate in consciousness. God or self is known when we become completely integrated -- not only with our un conscious and collective minds, but also with the cosmic consciousness, which is of the highest. To be in contact with the cosmic mind is what we call the contact high.

I will explain it in yet another way. When you meditate here at the camp and go deep into meditation, you first come in contact with your individual unconscious mind. Then some of you begin to scream and cry and some others dance and whirl and sing. All these activities arise from your individual unconscious. And by the end of the first stage of this meditation you cease to be individuals; you all become a collectivity. Now you are not individual entities separate from each other, you are a collective whole. This is the moment when you go deep in meditation and touch those levels of the mind which are part of the collective mind. Then you don't feel that you are dancing -- it feels that dance is going on and you are just a part of it. Then it does not seem that you are laughing; it seems the cosmic laughter is happening and you are just a participant in it. Then you don't feel that you are, it feels that only existence is and everything in existence is dancing: stars are dancing, mountains are dancing, birds are dancing, every particle under the sun is dancing. Then your dance becomes a small but integral part of the universal dance. This experience is coming from your contact with the collective unconscious.

Just below the collective unconscious lies the world of the cosmic unconscious. You arrive there via the collective unconscious; and once you are connected with the cosmic unconscious your awareness undergoes a complete mutation. Then you cease to feel that you are a part of the whole, rather you know that you and the whole are one -- you are not a part of the total but you are totality itself. And then you suddenly remember who you are; this remembrance shoots up like an arrow from the depths of the cosmic unconscious and fills your conscious mind. Then you also know, and know simultaneously, that this awareness that you are the brahman, the ultimate, the supreme is nothing new -- it has always been with you, buried deep in your cosmic unconscious.

I divided the process of remembering into four parts just to make it easier for you to understand. Krishna would never consent to this division, nor do I. In fact remembering, or consciousness, is nowhere fragmented; it is an integrated whole. The conscious and the unconscious are extensions of the same intelligence which is one and indivisible.

In our innermost depth we are aware that we are God, we are divine. We do not have to become divine, we have only to discover our divinity. It is really a matter of recognition. The seer of the Upanishad says in his prayer "O Sun, please uncover the truth that is covered with gold." It simply means that truth is veiled and it has to be unveiled. Divinity is not to be achieved, but unveiled and recognized. What is it that veils it?

It is our own forgetfulness, our unconsciousness which covers the truth.

In fact, we make do with a very tiny part of our mind, a major part of it remains unused. It is like a person owns a big palace but lives in its porch. And he has become so accustomed to the porch that he has forgotten altogether that he owns a large palace which is just behind. Really there can be no porch without a house, the porch is only the entrance to the house. But we have forgotten the large house that our mind is, and we spend our whole life in the porch -- our conscious mind is nothing more than a porch. It is not that the conscious ever gets completely disconnected from the larger mind, but we never enter and explore it so we get psychologically isolated from it. But deep down we know it is there.

Entry into the depths of the unconscious does not take place in stages; it always happens in a leap. Of course we can discuss and understand the unconscious in terms of parts.

Those who follow the path of spiritual discipline do so piece by piece. Krishna's path, however, does not accept discipline. He says over and over again that we are already divine, but since we have forgotten it we have only to remember it again. That is why the Upanishads repeatedly say it is just a matter of remembering. We have to remember who we are. It is not that we have lost our godliness, we have only forgotten it. It is not that godliness is our future, which we have to become. It is sheer forgetfulness.

And that makes a great difference, because spiritual discipline believes that we have lost something which we have to regain. Or it thinks we have to become something which we are not. Or it is presumed that we have to use discipline to get rid of many wrong things that we have acquired through wrong living. But in the process of remembering we have neither to regain something nor to become something, we have only to remember that which we have forgotten. We are what we are, and it is divine. Nothing has to be added or subtracted. Only a screen of forgetfulness, oblivion, divides us from our real being, our divinity.

Devotion is the foundation of Krishna's teaching, and remembering is basic to devotion. But the devotee has forgotten remembering altogether, and instead has taken to chanting; he goes on chanting the name of Rama. The Sanskrit word smaran, for remembering, has been corrupted, it has become sumiran and surati, and these other words have taken different connotations. Chanting Rama's name will not make you remember that you are Rama or God. Even if someone constantly repeats, "I am God, I am God," it will not be of any use. Remembering has nothing to do with chanting or repetition of names. But constant repetition of God's name can create an illusion. You will begin to believe that you are God. This belief will be illusory, because it remains con fined to the conscious mind while the unconscious remains absolutely untouched by it. Then what is the process, the way of remembering? What is its technique?

As I see, remembering comes through relaxation, silence and emptiness. You don't have to do a thing to remember, because activity will hinder rather than help you to remember. Just sit quietly without doing a thing; just be still and empty. Through action one can achieve something one does not have. By doing something you can become something that you are not. If you want to become an engineer you will have to do something to become it. Or you will have to act if you want to possess a car. But remembering is an entirely different dimension. To remember something you have forgotten, you have to sit still and quiet and do nothing. Doing will only obstruct remembering. In its deeper meaning, remembering is total inaction. That is why Krishna lays so much emphasis on akarma or inaction. Inaction is his key word. Inaction in depth is his message.

As I said earlier, even if you want to re member a friend's name you cannot succeed as long as you make efforts to remember. You will never remember it as long as you go on straining your mind. Memory comes alive only when you give up efforts and become totally inactive. Similarly if you become totally inactive -- inactive in depth -- the memory buried in the cosmic unconscious will spring like an arrow from there and shoot up to your conscious mind. It is as if a flower seed buried in the soil has sprouted and sent its shoots up in the form of a plant m your garden. And when the meteor of remember, ing, awareness arising from the cosmic unconscious, reaches and illumines your conscious mind, you know who you are.

So inaction is the key to remembering, as remembering is the key to devotion. On the other hand, action is central to spiritual discipline, it is only through action that you can discipline yourself and achieve your goal. And inaction is the door to devotion.

It would b e good to properly understand Krishna's principle of inaction. Unfortunately it has not been rightly understood so far; all those who have interpreted Krishna up to now seem to have no right understanding of inaction. Most of them have interpreted inaction as renunciation. They always said, "Renounce the world, renounce your family, renounce everything!" But renunciation is an act; you have to do something to renounce the world or the family. The interpreters went on telling people to give up everything -- their professions, families and even love -- and escape to mountains and monasteries. But renunciation is as much an act as indulgence is; Krishna was really misunderstood. Inaction was thought to be just renunciation and escapism. For this reason, India has a centuries-long tradition of renunciation and escape from life.

And all this has happened in the name of Krishna. No one has ever bothered to see that Krishna himself is not a renunciate, he never left his world, his family and his worldly responsibilities. Sometimes I wonder how such a long tradition can be so blind; all along it has refused to see the stark fact that the man who applauds inaction so much is himself deeply engaged in action throughout his life. He loves, he marries, he has children. He fights war and negotiates peace. He does many other things. So by no stretch of imagination can Krishna's inaction be interpreted as renunciation and escape.

In this context Krishna uses three words: akarma, karma and vikarma, meaning inaction, action and non-action. What is action? According to Krishna, mere doing is not action. If it is true -- if any kind of doing is action, then one could never enter into inaction. Then the inaction of Krishna's definition will be impossible. For Krishna, action is that which you do as a doer, as an ego. Really action for Krishna is an egocentric act, an act in which the doer is always present. A doing with a doer, in which one thinks himself as a doer, is action. As long as I remain a doer, whatever I do is action. Even if I take sannyas it is an act, an action. Even renunciation becomes an action if a doer is present in the act.

Inaction is just the opposite kind of action; it is action without a doer. Inaction does not mean absence of action, but it certainly means absence of the doer. An egoless action is inaction. If I do a thing without the egoistic sense that I am the doer, that I am the center of this action, it is inaction. Inaction is not laziness as is generally understood; it is very much action, but without a doer at its center. This thing has to be clearly understood. If the center, the ego, the I, the doer, ceases and only action remains, it is inaction. With the cessation of the doer every action becomes inaction. Action without a doer is inaction. It is action through inaction.

Krishna's every action is egoless, and therefore it is inaction. Even when he is doing something, he is really in inaction.

Between action and inaction there is akarma or non-action, which means a special kind of action. Inaction is egoless action; action is egoist action and non-action is a special kind of action. This thing which is midway between action and inaction, which Krishna calls non-action, needs to be understood rightly.

What does Krishna mean by non-action? Where there is neither a doer nor a doing, yet things happen, there is non-action. For example, we breathe, which we are not required to do by our own effort. There is neither a doer nor a doing so far as acts like breathing are concerned. Similarly the blood circulates through the body, the food is digested, and the heart beats. How can you categorize such acts? They come in the category of non-action, which means action happening without a doer and without a sense of volitional doing. An ordinary person lives in action, a sannyasin lives in inaction, and God lives in non-action. As far as God's action is concerned there is neither a doer nor any doing of the kind we know. There things just happen; it is just happening.

There are a few things in man's life too that just happen. And these are non-actions. In fact, these actions are divine operations. Do you think it is you who breathe? Then you are mistaken. If you were the master of this action known as breathing, then you would never die really. Then you can continue to breathe even when death knocks at your door. But can you say you are not going to stop breathing? Or try it otherwise -- stop breathing for a little while and you will know you cannot stop it either. Your breath will refuse to obey you, it will soon resume its breathing. In breathing you are neither the doer nor the doing itself. Many things of life are like breathing; they just happen.

If someone understands rightly what non-action is, and comes to know its mystery, he will soon enter into a state of inaction which is acting without a center, an ego. Then he knows that every significant thing in life happens on its own; it is utterly stupid to try to be a doer. And he is a wise man. He alone is a sage.

I have heard... A person boarded a train and took a seat, but the bag he carried with him remained sitting on his head. His fellow travelers were surprised and asked him why he was still keeping his bag on his head. The man said he did not want to add to the burden of the train which was already over-loaded. The fellow travelers were amused, and one of them said to him, "You seem to be a crazy person. Even if you carry the load on your head it is going to be a load on the train. Why carry an unnecessary burden on your head? Isn't it stupid?"

The man burst into laughter and said, "I had thought you were householders, but you all seem to be sannyasins." This man was a real sannyasin. He said, "I carry the bag on my head in order to conform to the ways of the world. I wonder why you laugh at me? I see all of you carrying the burden of the world on your heads, although you know that like this train it is God who bears all our burdens. I just wanted to conform to your ways." And then the man not only put the bag down on the train, but seated himself on it saying, "This is the right way a sannyasin should sit. He is not a doer; everything just happens."

One who understands the beauty of non-action enters the state of inaction which is acting without ego. As we are, we are all doers, and all our doings are egocentric. We live in action. But if we understand what non-action is we will begin to live in inaction. Then inaction will be at the center sf our being and action at its periphery.

Inaction is foundational to Krishna's devotion or upasana or whatever you wish to call it. You don't have to do a thing; you have only to allow that which is happening. You have to die to your doer, to your ego.

And the moment the doer disappears, remembering happens. This doer is the steel wall that separates you from your authentic being and makes you forget it. As long as this wall remains you cannot know who you are. Chanting Rama's name or repeating the mantra "I am God" will not help, because it is the doer in you who chants and repeats the name, the mantra. As long as you exist as an ego, you can do what you will, nothing will happen. So let the doer go, let the ego disappear. But how will the doer go?

Just try to understand what non-action is. Continue to act, but try to understand what non action is. Continue to do what you do, and try to understand life. The very understanding of life and its ways will tell you nothing is in your hands. Neither you decide to be born nor do you decide to die. Neither you breathe of your own volition, nor you have a hand in the circulation of your blood through the body. You were not consulted before your birth nor will you be consulted when your time arrives to depart from this world. Do you have a say in when you grow from childhood to youth to old age?

Existence was very much here when you were not, and it will continue to be here after you will be gone. You will make no difference whatsoever so far as existence is concerned. Stars will continue to shine as brightly as ever. Flowers will bloom as they have always bloomed. Streams will continue to flow and birds continue to sing. We are like lines drawn on the surface of the water: no sooner they are drawn than they disappear. Then why carry this utterly unnecessary burden of "I" on our heads and suffer endlessly? If the whole of existence can go without me, why cannot I go without me?

To understand the deeper meaning of non action is wisdom. To understand non-action is to understand everything. And then every action be comes inaction, then you do without being a doer, then you act through inaction. Non-action is the gate to wisdom; it is alchemical. Passing through ordinary action, if one encounters non-action with understanding, he will soon come upon inaction, which in its turn leads to remembering. Remembering happens only in inaction. Remembering that comes with effort is false; it is another form of action. Remembering that comes on its own, effortlessly, is real; it comes straight from the cosmos. That is why we say that the Vedas are divine revelations. Whenever something comes from the beyond -- whoever may be its medium -- it is divine revelation. The Bible is as much divine knowledge as the Vedas are. That is why Jesus says again and again that his father in heaven speaks through him. And Krishna says, "I am not, only God is; I am God. And it is I who am making the Mahabharat happen; it is all my play."

Krishna says to Arjuna, "You need not be afraid of killing, because all those you are going to kill have already been killed by me. They are already dead, you have only to give them the news of it through your arrows. And what I am saying is not my words, they are coming straight from the cosmos, from the beyond. From the depths of the beyond comes this information that what you see as life before you is only an appearance, it has already become extinct, it is no more alive. It is just a matter of moments when those standing across the battle lines will be dead. You are only an instrument in the hands of existence, nothing more. So don't think that you ate going to kill them. If you think you are the doer then you are bound to be afraid. With the doer comes fear, anxiety and anguish. Every suffering, every sorrow, arises from the ego, the doer, which is a false entity. You are utterly mistaken if you think you are the doer; you are merely an instrument in the hands of the divine. Let it do what it wants to be done through you, and let go of yourself."

Therefore, while concluding the GEETA, Krishna says to Arjuna, "Give up everything, give up all religions, all sense of the doer and doing, give up your ego and be established in inaction."

Inaction is the technique of remembering.


Next: Chapter 14: Action, Inaction and Non-Action, Question 2


Energy Enhancement           Enlightened Texts            Krishna            Krishna: The Man and His Philosophy



Chapter 14






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