|Vedanta Spiritual Library|
Unit - 08
Lesson - 0803: Nature of Action - Part I
By Raja Subramaniyan
Man is a combination of consciousness and inert objects (his body and mind).
Consciousness is changeless. It does not do any action nor causes any action.
The body/mind complex is helplessly bound to action all the time.
Unlike the body, the mind has the power to reflect the consciousness, which appears as our ego. Our ego assumes the role of the doer due to ignorance. People think that they have a choice on doing action. This is a myth. We do not have any choice on what we think nor what we do. Life happens to us and we do not live life.
The consciousness part of the man is common to all but the body/mind complex varies person to person depending on its composition. There are three distinct elements called, Aura, Energy and Matter, AEM for short, which make up the inert objects and the ratio in which these three elements are mixed varies from person to person. Based on the dominance, people can be grouped in four levels.
The perception of the action varies within these four levels as described below.
Level 1: Matter Dominant
These people do not have any ambitions in life. They just eat and sleep and live mostly like animals. They do not have sufficient intelligence to understand the nature of action nor do they have strong ego to assume that they are the doers. They just live life as it comes. They are happy when they get what they want and feel sorrow when they do not get what they want. However, they have minimum expectations in life.
Such people do action without thinking that they are doing the action. They are not very active. They do more work only when it is demanded by others.
They will not have the required level of intelligence to understand the concepts of Dharma or legitimate or illegitimate desires. They cannot see the importance of material pursuit. In addition to mere survival, they may be offering various prayers and observing various rituals according to the traditions and customs.
They can be guided into more action and pushed into material pursuit.
From inaction, they should be guided into action.
Teaching 41: Matter dominant people should be guided into more action
Level 2: Energy Dominant
These people have ambitions in material pursuit. They are better educated, more intelligent, aggressive and dominant people. They strongly believe that they are the makers of the world. They see themselves as independent of the universe. They assume that human beings came into existence by chance.
They have very strong ego. They work hard to modify the environment through their technical, political, economical skills. They believe that the world can be made into a perfect place where they can live happily all the time.
They cannot and will not understand that the everlasting happiness cannot be achieved through their action. Therefore, they should be encouraged to proceed in their path. However, they should be taught to follow Dharma in all their actions.
Teaching 42: Energy Dominant people are advised to follow Dharma
Level 3: Aura Dominant
These people have ambitions in spiritual pursuit. Having seen the futility of prosperity to lead to everlasting happiness, they turn towards spiritual pursuit. They also do lots of action. However, such action is towards the practice of Karma Yoga, Upasana Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
Their ego is fully ripened. They begin to see that the actions happen and they are not the doers. Some of them believe that the God is the doers and others accept action as integral part of them.
These people should be taught to do Karma as Karma Yoga. Once they achieve the required level of mental maturity by doing Karma Yoga, they can be guided into gaining Self-Knowledge, which will enable them to reach the final destination.
The primary purpose of all their actions is to achieve Joyful Living.
Teaching 43: Aura Dominant people should move from action to learning
Level 4: Beyond dominance of any element
These people do not have any ambitions in life since they have reached the destination. They live life joyfully. They do not have any binding desires. They may be more active or less active depending on their accumulated preferences. They may continue to have many desires. However, it does not matter to them whether such desires are fulfilled or not.
They do not have any ego. They are fully aware that life happens to them and all their actions are part of the nature. Therefore, they willingly allow themselves to be in action as directed by the nature. Although they do not have anything to gain by doing action, they do not abstain from action since others who have not reached this level might imitate them prior to reaching the destination.
Action and Attitude
Everyone, without any differentiation with respect to the level, is tied to action. The type of action depends on the composition of the three elements that make up the mind of the individual. The attitude towards action determines the suffering or otherwise.
People in Level 1 do not have a strong feeling, 'I am the doer'. Consequently, he accepts all the results of his actions as the gift from God. He may or may not complain about his status.
People in Level 2 have a strong feeling, 'I am the doer'. As a result, he feels guilty of inaction, insufficient or inappropriate actions. In addition, he is not satisfied with the results of his actions. He has the constant feeling of inadequateness and incompleteness. He works harder to achieve everlasting security, non-diminishing happiness and undisturbed peace.
People in Level 3 have a positive attitude towards action. Slowly they realize that they are not the doers and therefore they start moving towards Joyful Living.
People in Level 4 know that they are not the doers. Therefore, they function as a tool in an expert's (God's) hand.
Action is mandatory for all human beings. The attitude differs depending on the knowledge which varies at each level. The right attitude is listed below.
'I should do more action and gain material comforts' - This should be the attitude for the Level 1 people.
'I should do action in line with my Dharma' - This should be the attitude for the Level 2 people.
'I should do action for making my mind matured enough to receive self-knowledge' - This should be the attitude for the Level 3 people.
'I should do action for setting as a role model for those people who are following my footsteps' - This should be the attitude for the Level 4 people.
These are the recommended attitudes. Type of action and quantum of action is not recommended since they are not controllable.
Attitude is the result of knowledge. Knowledge depends on the ability to know. Since not everyone has the capability to understand the ultimate truth, each individual is allowed to grasp his version of truth. According to his limited understanding, he is expected to have appropriate attitudes towards his action so that he can progress to the next level.
Action and Dharma
All our actions are to be in line with the Dharma as prescribed in the Vedas. Dharma is the basis for both material pursuit and spiritual pursuit.
Material pursuit includes all the actions that are carried out for earning name, fame, money, wealth, property, position etc. In addition, it also includes all the actions done for the gratification of sense pleasures, like playing games, visiting places, dining in restaurants and such entertainment. All religious activities that are done for the purpose of earning name, fame, money etc and for removal of suffering are also considered to be part of material pursuit.
Spiritual pursuit includes learning the scriptures under the guidance of a competent teacher, reflection on the truth revealed in the scriptures and meditating on the knowledge.
All our actions are to be within the prescribed Dharma at all times. Initially, ensuring that the Dharma is followed in all our actions will be an effort. When one reaches the destination of Joyful Living it will become part of one's nature.
During the phase of material pursuit, Dharma may appear as a hurdle to progress. This is because most people do not know the real purpose of doing work. People wrongly assume that their effort in material pursuit will lead them to Joyful Living. The correct and only purpose of our action is to gain mental maturity (by doing the Karma as Karma Yoga). Karma Yoga strictly prohibits actions that are not in line with the prescribed Dharma. Therefore, when people are clear about their goal in material pursuit, there will not be any difficulty in restricting actions within the fold of Dharma.
Dharma is elaborately explained in Vedas. However, it is difficult for the common person to understand the same. Besides, according to the time and place the situation faced by the individual will wary. Although Dharma will not change, applying the scriptural definition to the day-to-day issues to determine the course of action is difficult. For this purpose, it is provided in Vedas that the life of the elders in the society who have already reached the final destination of Joyful Living can be a pointer. It is possible to approach such people and get clarity if there is a doubt in anyone's mind on whether a particular course of action is according to the Dharma or not.
Since the life of the elders who have mastered the Vedas is closely followed by others, it is essential for such people to do their duties although they have already reached the destination.
Dharma as demonstrated through actions in life will have better impact on them than telling them to follow Dharma.
Chapter 3: Karma Yoga [Verses: 19 - 29]
3.19 Therefore, without being attached to the result, one should do the prescribed duties. For by working without attachment, one attains the supreme.
3.20 Even kings like Janaka and others attained liberation by performance of prescribed duties. At least considering the welfare of the society, you should perform your work.
3.21 Whatever action is performed by a great man, common people follow his example. Whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.
3.22 Oh Arjuna, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I need to obtain anything. Yet I am engaged in work.
3.23 For, if I did not engage in tireless work, Oh Arjuna, certainly all men would follow My path in every way.
3.24 If I should cease to work, then all these worlds would perish. I would also be the cause of creating confusion. I would thereby destroy all the sentient beings.
3.25 As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, similarly the learned may also act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.
3.26 Let not the wise create confusion in the minds of the ignorant who are attached to action. They should not be encouraged to refrain from work, but to engage in work that is more efficient.
3.27 The ignorant people, under the influence of the three modes of the nature, think themselves to be the doers of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.
3.28 Oh Arjuna, but the knower of this truth, remains detached with the understanding that the sense organs function among the sense-objects.
3.29 Those who are deluded without knowing this truth get attached to the actions of the organs. A man of complete knowledge should not unsettle them.