What’s action and what’s inaction perplexes even the intelligent
Let me explain to you action to free you from all that’s bad 4.16
Details of action are indeed difficult to grasp. Let me explain to you
What’s action, what’s inaction and what’s not to be acted upon 4.17
He who sees action in inaction and inaction in action,
While still active, is intelligent and ready for action 4.18
He whose actions are not based on sense pleasures is the wisest
The fire of wisdom has burnt any desires he may have had for action 4.19
He who has detached himself from the results of his actions is free and content,
Engaged in action always but with no desire for results 4.20
The wise man acts with a controlled mind only for the essentials,
Without wanting to own anything; his action produces no reaction 4.21
Free from the duality of success and failure, content with what he gets,
He is never affected by what he does, however much he does. 4.22
Liberated, detached and mind focused on wisdom,
He who works selflessly acquires no reaction from action 4.23
Focused on the Self, offering the Self to the Self in every action,
He realizes the Self in every action. 4.24
I acknowledge this cartoon from the Net capturing the essence of these verses better than any number of words can!
Any action with desire, whether greed or lust, or even the opposite of desire, fear or anxiety, invites a reaction. This reaction can lead us far from where we intend to go.
In an earlier set of verses, Krishna talked about the three gunas or natural attributes and how these attributes help classify humans into four groups. Those in Satva follow the advice given by Krishna here. They stay in action, but disengaged with the outcome. Success or failure does not matter to the person following the Satva path. The journey is relevant, not the destination. If one journeys right, whatever destination happens would be right. Right!
At the other end is one in Tamas, who is in inaction not because one desires to disengage from outcome, but out of laziness and ignorance. Any one in addiction to drugs and substances would fall in this classification. Krishna rejects this behavior in another place saying human nature is about action. Nature created and programmed us just to do it!
In between are most of us, engaged in action and obsessed with outcome. All management and non management culture is about the Plan, Do, Correct and Act cycle. Goals are paramount. Quarterly results define who we are. Without goals we are insecure. With goals, we are even more insecure.
Arjuna is the archetypal Kshatriya, steeped in Rajas. He is the greatest warrior of his time. He has never known failure. Success is his mantra. Yet, in the midst of a battlefield, as he is about to distribute destruction among his enemies, he is seized with anxiety and depression. He starts wondering if what he is about to do and what he has been doing all along has any purpose.
Many of us face this situation at the height of our successes. I did at the height of a corporate career. Nothing i has achieved made any sense. All the wealth i had accumulated and all the wealth i had lost became irrelevant. What wasn’t clear was what was, if at all anything, relevant.
I set off as a spiritual seeker and all i encountered were people in similar confusion. Even those who pretended they had the answers were ignorant of the questions. They pretended. They preached what they did not practice. The gurus were all frauds.
Shankara talks about such people in his Bhaja Govindam a thousand years ago: Hair knotted or hair pulled out and bald, wearing different colored robes putting on masks, pretending to see while not seeing, these fraudsters wear disguises to fill their stomachs.
Ignore gurus and prophets. There aren’t any. Focus on the Self, reach out with your Self to every other Self and in the process realize your Self.
Listen to Krishna and be your Self!