Home - Dharma for Awakening - Bhagavad Gita–The Book of Life - How Not To Act

How Not To Act

Part 18 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening cover
Also available a free PDF download from our E-Library and as an ebook and paperback from Amazon International.

The next (third) chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is devoted to the subject of Karma Yoga–the yoga of selfless action, including the performance of one’s own duty and the service of humanity. In my opinion, the final and complete word on the subject is Swami Vivekananda’s small book Karma Yoga, and I recommend that you obtain and study it. But for now let us consider Krishna’s anticipation of the subject.

Your authority is for action alone, never to its fruits at any time. Never should the fruits of action be your motive; and never should there be attachment to inaction in you (2:47).

Karma/work and its fruit

Ordinarily when we speak of karma we mean the law of cause and effect, but it also means action or work. This is the usual meaning in the Bhagavad Gita. Karma includes both physical and mental activity, including both thought and feeling, which is why Jesus said that the mere desire to do evil was a form of committing the act (Matthew 5:21-22, 28). As Krishna says: “The path of action is difficult to understand.… He who perceives inaction in action and action in inaction–such a man is wise among men” (4:17-18). The fruit of action, karmaphala, is the result or effect of activity, both actual and intended.

Authorization to work

In some translations the expression “right to act” is used, but that is a very poor translation of adhikara, although just about everyone uses it. Adhikara means authority, qualification, jurisdiction, or prerogative; only peripherally does it mean privilege–and never a “right.”

Basically, by taking human birth we have been authorized or enabled to engage in action. In truth, we cannot escape such an engagement. Therefore we must learn from Krishna how to do it correctly. And even before that we have to learn how to view our action and its authorization. Krishna is teaching us the correct perspective we must have on our entire life, which consists of nothing but action and reaction to that action.

The way in and the way out

Presently we are caught in the net of constant activity, and consequently enmeshed in bondage. Action has put us in this mess and action can free us from it. As Swami Sivananda translates an upcoming verse (2:50): “Endowed with wisdom (evenness of mind), one casts off in this life both good and evil deeds; therefore, devote yourself to Yoga; Yoga is skill in action.” We must walk the tightrope of right action, as Buddha has counseled us. Krishna has given us several principles we must understand and assimilate.

Your authority is for action alone…

The sole purpose of the universe–and our involvement in it–is evolution. And all growth is movement, either automatic or intentional. For us who have come to the level of conscious self-awareness, action is the answer. Until now we have been carried along by the wave of mechanical, involuntary movement–which was necessary, since we did not have the requisite level of development to take charge of our own movement forward. But now we do. During the period in which we were being impelled along by the currents of cosmic life (that are indicated by the movement of the planets), alternately emerging from and being submerged in the ocean of samsara, we set many forces in motion by our response to those ups and downs. These forces took the form of both karma and samskara (mental impressions from past action). So now that we are on our own to a significant degree, we have to deal with them, mostly by neutralizing them or using them as ascending steps in our inner growth. Because of all this we are authorized to engage in actions.

It is our desire for objects and our engaging in work meant to result in the fulfillment of those desires that has entangled us and put us in our present state of confusion and bondage. To engage in further action with desire as the moving force would only compound our dilemma. So we act for the sake of action alone–not random action, but action which will free us from the compulsion to act. In other words, we begin to act as free, conscious beings, not as semi-conscious wanderers or compulsives. By acting we bring about freedom from action.

…never to its fruits at any time

Right action is not supposed in and of itself to “bear fruit,” but to free us from all “harvesting.” Usually, when we act we put ourselves under the necessity of reaping the effects of the action, “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). But there is a way to act in which there is no result except the freedom from further action. Some actions forge chains and other actions break them. The latter is needful for our progress.

Never should the fruits of actions be your motive

Results in the form of external effects are not at all what ultimately matters. What does matter is the effect of action on our state of consciousness. To free our consciousness we must be totally free of desire for results. When we can act in this way all bonds drop away and we are free–not Self-realized as some erroneously think, but free to move on to higher degrees of evolution without any more entanglements. Then Self-realization is possible.

And never should there be attachment to inaction in you

It has to be admitted that a great deal of “detachment,” “indifference,” “uninvolvement,” and “renunciation” is nothing more than classical laziness on the mental and physical levels. In India especially we find a lot of “renouncers” and “non-attachers”–both monastic and non-monastic–that are simply bundles of tamasic ignorance and indolence.

Years ago I heard a minister tell of a man in his home town who was “called by God,” and consequently refused to engage in any “worldly” activity. All day long (in good weather) he sat on the front porch so he would be seen and read the Bible–or at least turned the pages in a leisurely manner. The pages were gilt-edged, so they flashed and gleamed in the sunlight. Occasionally his wife would ask him to do a simple task or give her a little help. He would smile, lift his voice so the neighbors could hear, and reply: “Why, wife, do you not know ‘that I must be about my Father’s business’?” And that was that. Much later I saw a television program in which some people announced: “We just want to do our own thing.” When asked: “What is your ‘own thing”?” They answered: “Nothing.” Krishna warns us against this vacuousness of mind and heart.

By the way, Krishna urges us to desireless action, but not to motiveless action. There is a difference. We are to act with a motive: liberation.

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: How To Act

(Visited 2,454 time, 1 visit today)

Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

(Visited 2,454 time, 1 visit today)