The yoga of action

In a critical section of the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna instructs Arjuna on the fundamentals of the yoga of action, (otherwise known as karma yoga) that the road to liberation does not lie in renunciation of action and neither does a person attain the state of actionlessness through physical renunciation. In other words, neither the abandonment of action nor the abandonment of physical possessions leads to liberation.


The meaning of this statement is deep and profound. What the Lord is asking of Arjuna to practice is not the renunciation of action but the practice of renunciation in action.
Two metaphors capture this state of being accurately and beautifully.

Both the metaphors were employed Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and have been widely cited ever since especially because they are so tellingly appropriate. The first is to live like a lotus in this world. Despite living in dirt and grime, (the sensory world), the lotus continues to emit an extraordinary fragrance and does not allow the filth of its surrounding to touch it.


Accordingly, we are asked to live in this world by remaining unattached to the temptations of the senses and perform our duties mindfully and responsibly. The second metaphor used by Sri Ramakrishna was that of a cashier performing his daily role of disbursing large amounts of cash to customers in the bank.

Despite the fact that he disburses large amounts of cash through his hands every single day, it never occurs to him that this cash is his own; he is forever free of notions of “I” and “mine.” In a similar vein, aspirants must guard against treating the objects they come across in this world as belonging to them.

They must behave like trustees who hold things and relationships in trust because everything they have in this world comes to them as a result of divine grace. This includes wife, children and loved ones.

Swami Rama points out that the path of action indicates the path of conquest and love, while the path of renunciation is a path of sacrifice: “In the path of action, one offers the fruits of his actions to others. He acknowledges the Absolute in everyone. That is prayer and worship in reality and not a prayer of empty words. If one prays but never realizes the profound meaning of the prayer by practicing it in his daily life, he will not find inner satisfaction. Without inner satisfaction one remains anxious.”

Actions cannot be avoided by any living being. Karmas cannot be successfully performed if a person is inactive.

Discharging karmas successfully means transforming our actions into sacrifices. Sacrifice essentially means putting service to others before self. It is love in action.

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