42. Karma and Akarma - Action and Inaction

Action and Inaction

by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V



The 18th sloka in the fourth chapter of the Bhagavadgita states, "He who perceives karma (action) in akarma (inaction), and akarma in karma he is wise among people" In the subsequent slokas Lord Krishna explains how a wise person, whose actions are burnt by the fire of knowledge, escapes from karma by keeping his actions free from desires and attachments, remaining contended and taking refuge in nothing. From that we get a clue what constitutes action in inaction and inaction in action.

Karma in akarma

Actions can be performed physically, mentally, and spiritually. You must be familiar with them. When you watch a movie or listen to a discourse, or enjoy a quiet moment listening to your favorite music or reminiscing something, your body may be physically inactive, but your mind remains active. You cannot say you are doing nothing. Even when you are physically inactive, your senses would be dwelling upon various things in your environment. You may see an object and desire that object, or you may feel repelled by it. Such reactions arise from your desires and attachments.

Whenever your mind is propelled by desires and thinks in certain ways, know that you are creating karma even if you have not outwardly done anything. Same happens in meditation, which is a mental activity. If it is done with selfish desires, even for a good cause, or to experience peace and happiness, know that it produces consequences. Anything that you do for yourself, in which you take pride or for which you claim ownership, produces consequences for you. Your karma is the investment, which you make to express your egoism or your will. Worrying, daydreaming, becoming angry at the mere thought of something, are also actions with consequences. An idle mind is an active mind, even if outwardly nothing may be happening. They are examples of actions in inaction because you are still engaged in the chain of cause and effect, and you have not disabled the mechanism of karma.

Akarma in karma

Now take another situation. You have prayed to God expecting nothing in return. It is an action without desires, and it will not produce any karma for you. You may perform any action as if you are doing it as a duty to God. If your thought is genuine, it will not produce any karma. If you do sadhana (practice) for long, you will silence your ego and assume the subtle identify of your soul. When you perform any actions as if you are an eternal Self, they do not bind you. It is important that in doing so you are not drawn to anything, and you do not take particular interest in anything. You should remain firmly established in your spiritual identity and perform your actions as an eternal Self. Then your actions will not bind you.

Karma arises if you believe and act as if you are living to fulfill your dreams and desires, assuming your physical identity as your real identity. It is what most people do. However, if you believe that you are not living for your sake, but to fulfill your obligations as an aspect of God, or as an eternal Self, your actions will not produce karma for you. They may produce karma, but it will go into the account of God. As you transfer the burden of ownership and doership to God, the burden of karma also becomes transferred.

It is like I have asked you to do something, and you have done it. Then, I am totally responsible for it. However, if I have not asked but you have done something on your own, then you are totally responsible for it. You see, the logic upon which the law of karma works is simple and straightforward. What is yours is yours, and what is mine is mine.

In case of God, he will not directly speak to you or ask you to do anything. You have to step into the shoes of God and assume his role. Using your intelligence and discretion, you should know how he may conduct himself in the world as an embodied being, or as an incarnation, and live that way. This is the purpose of his incarnations, to let the world know how God in his eternal wisdom may live upon earth as a human being, or as an animal, and how he may exemplify righteous conduct in every aspect of life and in different circumstances.

You can also become free from the burden of karma by not seeking the fruit of your actions. In other words, you should perform actions without expectations and without worrying about the outcome, leaving them to God or your soul. In worldly activities, you have to plan everything meticulously and focus upon your goals. Your performance will be judged based upon the results you produce. In the spiritual world, you have to set aside all planning and result oriented performance. Instead you have to focus upon the execution and leave the outcome to itself. If a friend invited you to a movie, which you were not expecting, and you decide to go without any desire or expectation, your action becomes akarma, action that will not produce consequences.

The idea is you must live spontaneously, with trust in God, accepting whatever life offers to you without resistance, judgment, and expectation, and without seeking security and stability. It is the true mark of renunciation. It is what we call Sanyas, living without effort (ayas), or letting life happen. Renunciation should set you free from fear, insecurity, dependence, compulsion, conditioning, and any limitation that you may experience in life. If you feel oppressed by it, probably you have not understood the true meaning of renunciation.

Truly speaking, you cannot live spontaneously in the material world, and let life happen. It will not be possible unless you turn to spirituality and completely surrender yourself. Since you cannot do it easily, at least offer all your actions to God and let him take responsibility for their outcome and consequences. It is the best you can do under the circumstances.

Bring God into your life and let him be the owner of everything that you have and do, and let him take responsibility for all your actions. You may not be able to surrender at once, because your ego will put up a stiff resistance. Do it in steps. Start offering the food you eat, the things you like, and gradually keep adding. That way, without much pain, you can immunize your life against karma and arrest its accumulation.

When you make an effort out of selfish desires, it produces karma. However, when you make an effort without desires and expectations, it sets you free. This is the secret. However, as I said before, it is not easy to get rid of your desires or become established in your spiritual identity. You cannot easily silence your ego, or the notion that you are not responsible for your life and your actions. It comes after a long practice, when you purify your mind and body, and cultivate detachment and dispassion. Until then, keep trying and keep working on your self-transformation and inner preparation. Put that thought in your subtle mind and let it grow.

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