|Vedanta Spiritual Library|
Unit - 08
Lesson - 0801: The Prescription - Proper Action
By Raja Subramaniyan
The nature - Life
The universe including all the living beings is in a constant state of flex. As a part of this ever-changing phenomenon, human beings are bound to action all the time. Such endless action from birth to death is called life.
The disease - Suffering
Life oscillates between the pairs of opposites. Man appears to be happy during the positive swing and suffers during the negative swing. While suffering is obvious during bad times, it is latent during the rest of the time. There is a constant feeling of incompleteness, inadequacy, or insecurity, which dominates the life of everyone.
The diagnosis - Ignorance
The root cause of the disease is diagnosed as lack of self-knowledge. If we gain the knowledge on who we are, the ignorance will be removed. Then suffering will go and we will live joyfully.
The immune system - Intelligence
Man is endowed with intelligence to enable him to live life happily. This natural intelligence is corrupted by attachment.
The AIDS virus - Attachment
The constant action brings human beings in contact with the sense objects. The sense pleasures drive them into more action. Action breeds likes and dislikes. When the likes and dislikes become stronger, they give birth to attachment.
Attachment breaks the natural immune system (intelligence) and as a result, man can no longer discriminate between good and bad. Attachment afflicts our intelligence in such a way that we see good as bad and vice versa. As a result, we continuously suffer. This is the unhealthy state. Our natural healthy status is to enjoy life and live joyfully all the time.
Besides, since our mind is afflicted by attachment, we cannot take the medicine (self-knowledge). Even if we take the medicine, it will give harmful effects and will not cure the disease. Self-Knowledge shows us who we are. However, for a person who is deluded by attachment, it becomes another set of knowledge and his ego becomes stronger. Therefore, the AIDS is to be cured before the treatment can begin. Similarly, the mind has to mature before we can begin the lessons on Self-Knowledge.
Prevention of AIDS virus
The AIDS virus (attachment) spreads due to contact between the sense object and the sense organs. It may appear that we should abstain from sex totally in order to avoid affliction of the AIDS virus. However, it is a foolish option.
We are here to enjoy life and it is not possible to abstain from action. Besides, action is our nature and we cannot remain without action even for a moment. Therefore, inaction is not the solution. We should gain knowledge on the virus, understand how it is transmitted and take precautions to avoid it. Once we protect ourselves with appropriate condoms, we do not have to fear the virus anymore.
Knowledge on the AIDS Virus (attachment)
It is natural for us to act. We come with an accumulated set of preferences (our likes and dislikes) which is the result of our past actions including actions done in the previous births. This accumulated set of preferences leads us to attachment. Therefore, we need to be cautious of our interaction with the external world.
The prescription - Proper Action
Vedas have provided the prescription to cure our disease. Inaction will not cure us. We need to do proper action.
Teaching 37: Avoid illegitimate desires and moderate legitimate desires
Proper Action is prescribed as follows
For action born out of mind prompted by our desires:
1. Avoid illegitimate desires.
2. Moderate legitimate desires
3. Convert legitimate desires as non-binding desires.
For action born out of intelligence prompted by our duties:
1. Do the duty without focusing on the results
2. Renounce all your rights
3. Complete the duties to the best of your abilities.
Teaching 38: Let the actions be born from intelligence and not from mind
If we do all our action in line with this prescription, then we will be cured of our affliction. Our mind will be free of the AIDS virus (attachment) and we will regain our discriminatory power to distinguish between the reality and the illusion. Then we will be ready to gain Self-Knowledge, which involves separating the false identity from our true self. When we come to this stage, we will be moving at a faster pace towards regaining our natural health (Joyful Living)
Action born out of mind
Mind receives information through the five senses. This information is processed through our accumulated preferences. This results in branding some of the sense objects as 'objects of desires'. Mind drives the action organs to perform action to fulfill our desires.
Such actions are done since we enjoy doing them.
Example: We watch or play cricket match because we like the game.
It is wrongly assumed that performance of such action will fulfill our desires. On the contrary, more actions we do, stronger the desires will become. We will be driven to more such action.
We need to control the actions born out of mind as detailed below.
Action born out of mind - Avoid illegitimate desires
To avoid AIDS, it is not recommended to abstain from sex totally. However, it is dangerous to have sex with prostitutes. It is totally prohibited. Similarly, all the bad actions are prohibited in order to safeguard against attachment.
Example: We should not steal. We should not hurt others.
The complete list of bad actions is described in an earlier lesson.
Actions born out of mind - Moderate legitimate desires
We need to reduce such actions progressively. However, it is very difficult to reduce such actions. It may appear that the entire purpose of life is to be involved in pursuit of such actions. Therefore, we are allowed to indulge in action to fulfill our legitimate desires in line with the guidelines given below.
Guideline 1: Thank the god for giving us the good experience. We are allowed to enjoy our legitimate pleasures so long we have the attitude that it is a gift from god to us and NOT the result of our own work. We should not have the attitude that the food that we eat is earned by us. We should thank god for giving us our daily food. Similarly, we can enjoy any sense pleasures so long we acknowledge them as gifts from god to us.
Guideline 2: Share our enjoyment with others. Whenever we enjoy we should ensure that our joy is shared with everyone around us. It is recommended in Vedas that we should not cook food only for our own consumption. We should always share whatever we have with others.
Guideline 3: Pray to god to give the right mind to accept whatever be the situations in life. Instead of praying for fulfillment of our desires, we should pray for a strong mind that can withstand the non-fulfillment of the desires.
Guideline 4: Regulate the action by allocating specific time. It is natural for the mind to come up with desires and we seek to gratify such desires. We should process the desire through our intelligence and then fulfill it according to a predetermined plan. Planning should be more important than fulfillment of the desire.
Example: I feel like buying a dress, when I am shopping for my shoes.
This desire should not be fulfilled immediately. We had a plan only to buy a pair of shoes and there was no plan to buy a dress. Since we have a weak mind that cannot withstand a strong desire, we cannot control ourselves from buying the dress. However, we should regulate ourselves to do things only according to our plan. Since we saw a dress and want to buy it, we are allowed to buy it after planning for it at a later date.
It is important that we do not do things as and when desire occur. All our desires can be fulfilled only after they find a place in our pre-planned daily schedule.
Guideline 5: Follow a strict daily/weekly/ monthly schedule. We need to plan all our actions and do only things according to the plan. We are allowed to include all our desires in our schedule but they need to be part of the schedule before fulfillment.
Example: We should get up from bed at a fixed time.
It does not matter whether we get up at 5 am or at 7 am so long it is determined by our intelligence. Our mind can have a desire to sleep late. This desire should be fulfilled only after the approval of our intelligence.
Example: Mind can appeal to the intelligence that on Sunday the regular wakeup time should be postponed.
Intelligence can accede to the request of the mind but such instances should be progressively decreased.
Thus slowly all the action born out of mind will be transferred as actions born out of intelligence.
Actions born out of intelligence
The desires for sense pleasures determine the action out of mind. We do another set of actions, which are the result of our conscious decision on what is good for us. Such decisions are born out our intelligence. All our duties also come under this fold. Depending on our chosen life style, we will have many duties. In addition, we may have many self-imposed duties.
Example: I have decided to do a correspondence course to increase the chance of promotion.
This is an example of self-imposed duty. Watching a cricket match or an entertainment show cannot be called as a self-imposed duty for obvious reasons.
Action born out of intelligence is superior to the actions born out of mind because what we like may not be good for us.
Example: It is harmful for a diabetic to eat sweets. This is an action born out of mind. We restrict the intake of our food for maintaining our weight. This is an action born out of intelligence and it is good for us.
It is permitted that the action born out of intelligence is converted as an action of desire.
Example: It is the duty of the driver to drive the car. If he develops a liking for driving, it is fine.
We should be cautious when we classify an action either as an action born out of mind or out of intelligence because the mind tends to convince the intelligence the chosen action is good. If there is a doubt on the classification, we should get the opinion of a wise person who is not biased but interested in our welfare.
Although action born out of intelligence is superior, it also has the effect of binding us. Our objective is to do our actions out of non-binding desires. To reach such a stage, we need to follow the guidelines prescribed below:
Guideline 1: Be aware that our intelligence is deluded. In general, everyone is aware of his duties. However, since the intelligence is deluded one may avoid doing the duty and in addition will justify his action saying that it is not his duty. Therefore, instead of relying on one's own judgment on whether a particular action is our duty or not, one should listen to the elders and follow their advice.
Guideline 2: Do the duties without stressing on the rights. One person's duty is another's right. We assume that if we do our duty, we have a right to expect the other to perform his part of the duty. This is wrong. We should not do our duty because we are going to enjoy our rights.
Example: The person walking ahead drops her valet by mistake. It is our duty to inform her or pick the valet and return it to her. We should not expect that she would acknowledge our gesture with thanks or show us some gratitude.
We need to do our duty without expecting that others will do their part of the duty.
Guideline 3: The result of our actions will accrue to us but we will not be able to perceive it directly. God will keep accounts and ensure that we reap the result of all our actions. However, some part of the results will be immediate/ visible and the remaining part will be deferred/ invisible. We have no way to verify the calculation of the god. We need to trust in accuracy of God's work and keep doing our duty to our maximum potential.
Guideline 4: Duties are to be performed because they are duties and for no other purposes. The universe is designed in such a way that if everyone does his duty fully and correctly, everyone will receive the due benefits.
We should do our duty because we are bound to action. There should be no other objective for doing our duty. We should not be doing our duty with the focus on our right that arises from doing our duty.
Example: I do my work well because I will be getting my promotion. If my promotion is delayed for some reason, I will not work as well as before.
It is our duty to do the work to the best of our abilities irrespective of the fact whether salary is paid or not. We can resign the job because salary is not given but we need to work sincerely until we quit the job.
If we are to work for earning salary, we will be tired by the end of the day. We will wait for the weekend or for the vacation. On the other hand, if we are to work for a higher purpose, then there will be involvement and excitement in our work. We will never be tired of doing work.
Automatically we will be working at our maximum potential. Our skills and capabilities will be sharpened as we do work with involvement.
Guideline 5: Other's duties not our concern. We should not be concerned about others doing their duty with the exception of our subordinates. If others do not do their duty, they will face the consequence and we should mind our business. We should not question the wisdom of god if people are not punished for not doing their duty. Even if they get awards and rewards for a poor performance, it should not bother us.
If we follow these guidelines, we will get a matured mind that is capable of receiving the teaching on self-knowledge.
Additional Actions required to accelerate our progress
1. We must allocate separate time for prayer.
2. We must pray five times a day
3. We should show our gratitude to our parents, fellow human beings, society, other living beings and nature by doing something in return for all the things we have taken from them.
4. We should read books of wisdom.
5. We should perform all the religious and cultural customs handed down to us by our elders.
The giant cycle of life
We are not separate entities that are independent of the universe. Our body and mind are integral part of the universe, which is in one continuous movement (action). All our actions are part of that giant movement.
It is our Dharma to do work. Dharma is defined as that which preserves. We need to do our work well in our chosen profession. If we do not do that, it amounts to stealing.
Teaching 39: We need to do our duties all the time to keep the world going
The whole universe can be assumed to be a big wheel. Each component of the universe has a role to play. Everyone must do their duty (Dharma) to keep the universe functioning. All living beings other than human beings are doing their part without any choice. Only human beings have the will power to do or not to do their part of the duty.
We are fully dependent on the universe for food, water, air for our survival. We are allowed draw these resources provided we do our part of the duty. Without this knowledge, we exploit the nature to our advantage. The wrong assumption that we are independent of the nature makes us break the cycle. If we do our prescribed duty since it is recommended by Vedas, we will get the mental maturity to gain self-knowledge and thereby gain Joyful Living.
One is bound to suffer since it is the nature of the world to offer dualities and one will not know that he is bound. Only if we acknowledge the role of the universe in supporting our life we can hope to have the access to the medicine of Self-Knowledge.
Dharma is that which preserves. The whole universe is sustained by the practice of Dharma. We need to do our Dharma since it is our duty and as a result, it will sustain us. Giving and taking is the essence of survival. If we keep consuming without paying the price (by way of doing our duty) we will continue to suffer.
Dharma will protect us provided we protect Dharma by doing our duty.
Chapter 3: Karma Yoga [Verses: 09 - 16]
3.9 This world survives by the action of everyone. Therefore, Oh Arjuna, perform your prescribed duties without any attachment and remain free from bondage.
3.10 Having created human beings in the beginning of creation, the creator said, "May you prosper by this. May this be a source of desired objects for you".
3.11 May you do your duties to nourish the gods and may the gods nourish you in turn by sustaining the world. This will ensure general prosperity for all.
3.12 Being satisfied by your performance, gods will supply all necessities to man. But he, who enjoys these gifts, without offering them in return, is certainly a thief.
3.13 The noble ones, who share their food before eating, are released from all kinds of sins. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.
3.14 All living bodies are born out of food grains, which are born out of rains. Rains are born out of the prescribed duties performed by the living beings.
3.15 Duties for all the human beings are prescribed in the Vedas and the Vedas are directly given by God. Therefore, it should be followed eternally without expecting the results.
3.16 Oh Arjuna, a man who does not follow these prescribed duties, which are initiated by God in this manner leads a life of sin. He, who lives for the senses, lives in vain.