Action and Inaction, Doing and Nondoing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Living the Bhagavad Gita

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On the path of karma yoga, the crux of existence comes down to how we perform actions at any given moment. On the surface, the journey is always from here to here, as Yogani wisely says. However, this path is very often convoluted, and takes unexpected turns and twists despite our best intentions to “do” karma yoga. In these twists, we come to understand first-hand the true meaning of nondoing in doing and inaction in action as explained in the Gita.

Once the process of unfolding begins, it takes its own uncharted course. For me, that course has been a deep dive into the subtle and causal bodies, coming to rest often in ever deepening pools of stillness and peace. Sinking here in meditation, there is a freezing of the body in a paralysis-like state often associated with cessation of breath and loss of consciousness. Coming out of it, there is deep peace untouched by any activity going on around me. This “state” frequently wafts into daily activities where there is a sort of jarring out of a deep reverie wondering what I’m doing or why I’m there, amidst conversations or other activity. Thoughts, sensations and emotions are seen like passing clouds and bubbles, not touching the deep stillness. This is all associated with a loss of drive and ambition, related most likely to loss of fear and anxiety around being “someone” with specific qualifications or achievements, title or status. The deep peace pervades the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states, unshakeable and groundless. Increasingly, it is difficult to relate to the rat-race of the marketplace – not particularly conducive to one with a busy career and family.

This phase appears to be quite common. I was discussing this with a dear friend, Anurag Jain, a wise yogi, fellow-lover of the Gita and founder of Neev Forum for Integral Living. In his characteristic and unassuming fashion, he asked me what I thought about Krishna’s words in the 4th chapter (4:16), where he discloses the secret of karma yoga – inaction in action. Like a complicated lock falling into place with the right key, I immediately “got” what he was referring to.

As discussed here, the evolution of karma yoga involves losing identity as the doer of action. And this evolution requires the additional yogas of bhakti and/or jnana. With deepening self-inquiry, one dives into the subtle and causal bodies, with a shift in identification from the limited body-mind to a greater, non-localized sense of being. The distinctions between “inside” the body and “outside” blur and fade and this shift is often accompanied by subtle and not-so-subtle movements of Shakti (energy), intuitive openings and a growing sense of “knowingness”. The sense of doership simultaneously fades, since the sense of being is no longer associated with this particular body-mind. Most traditions talk primarily about this part of the journey; to see that we are not the limited body-mind. And this is where many can get stuck, as I’ve experienced. The bliss and deep peace of being are so vast and all-encompassing that there is no compelling need to “do” anything (since I’m not the doer anyway). Engaging in the world becomes difficult and a chore. It takes supreme effort to be interested in clothes and cars and titles and statuses and paychecks and who-is-doing-what.

The conundrum is this – many of us are prompted to enter the spiritual path after we have established careers and long-term goals and have committed to partners and family. And we never count on drastic changes that can (and do) occur on this path; of phases of craving solitude more than anything, of deep confusion and pain of the so-called “dark night of the soul”, of the terror and fears that surface as the subconscious mind is churned, of the need to stand and face oneself and one’s own perceived utter failures and disappointments and to own it all. We assume that the spiritual path will make us holy and serene like in the pictures; moreover, our family members assume these qualities for us – and thus, we are all shocked when we are less than holy or serene at times. Mostly, we do not count on going so deep within that the surface ripples do not even touch us – we certainly do not count on losing the identity as the doer and what that really means in the context of a busy life.

Going from doing to nondoing is only half the journey. The other half involves returning once again to doing. But this time, the doing is different, for while it appears that one is doing, he/she does nothing at all and the action flows through him/her. Life and its processes become the Sri Yantra – stillness of the Bindu amidst dynamic activity of the intersecting triangles. In this (necessary for many) hiatus resulting from this shift of identity to not being the doer, the only thing to do is to surrender all vestiges of personal will. And to submit to Shakti to use this body-mind in any way She chooses. Inaction in action is this exactly – just like the heart and the digestive system work without volition, external actions also just happen with this body-mind being the vehicle for it without any personal ownership of it all. How long this “return journey” will take, I do not know.

Yet, there is a deep trust in the process and in Her. For it is now evident that the secret to inaction in action is surrender.

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