One should never consider oneself the author of the action
Karma Yoga goes even further. The next stage is about authorship: we shouldn’t selfishly consider ourselves the authors of the detached action that we are performing. But we observe that there is not always a clear answer about who the author is in reality.
In Bhagavad Gita, Kåñna explains: “When actions are performed by the guëas (specific modes of nature), the human being who is led astray by the ego is thinking: ‘I am the one who is acting’.” At the end of the text Kåñna gives more details: “The five causes of action are: the body, the author, the five instruments, the many types of effort and finally, the destiny (karma). These five elements make all the efficient causes which determine the form and the result of each action performed by no matter who in this world with his mind, with his speech and with his body”.
Swami Ramadas is categorical in this direction: “Even to think, egotistically, that we are the authors of our action is totally false” and he repeats this affirmation many times (Letters).
In Mahabharata, other sages who approached this theme are not less categorical than Kåñna when talking about the true causes of action. In this way, Prahlada says it straight to Indra: “The one who selfishly considers himself the author of his actions, be they good or bad, is endowed with a vicious intelligence. In my opinion, such a person is ignorant and does not know the truth at all” (Shanti).
When Kåñna talks about a devotional practice that involves the mental recitation of a famous sacred prayer from Rig-Veda, he explains: “The person reciting the gayatri-mantra doesn’t consider himself the author of this action, nor the enjoyer of this action, nor the one who bears its consequences”.
For Bali, according to what he is telling to Indra, the true almighty author of action and the one making the action possible is none other than the Supreme Divine Self: “That you selfishly consider yourself as the author of action, O! Shankara, this attitude is the root of all pains and sufferings… I am not the author of action, you are not the author of action. God, the Divine, is the author of all actions, only he is in reality the Omnipotent”.
The same idea comes forth from Swami Ramadas: “In fact, God is always the unique author of action” (Letters). He adds: “God is the one pushing us to action and He is also always the one acting in and through us.” (Letters). Sri Aurobindo also says: “It is a great secret of the spiritual practice (Sadhana) to know how to do all things through the Infinite Power of God, which is behind or above us, instead of doing everything only by a selfish effort” (Yoga Guide).
Otherwise, he is always warning his disciples against the temptation of considering themselves anything else other than a simple instrument through which the action is done: “Transform yourself into the detached instrument of the action performed through you” (Answers). “You must always act as a complete detached instrument in the activity which you are performing”. For Sri Aurobindo one should even guard himself against the “arrogance of being an instrument”.
Swami Vivekananda gives a surprising formulation: when offering something from God to someone, “you are in reality only the intermediary agent who transports money or any other present” (Practical Yoga).
We also quote here the words of Swami Brahmananda to his disciples: “Before starting your activity, fervently remember God and offer him all your thoughts. Do the same thing from time to time during your activity and also when you have finished.” (Monastic disciplines). The offering made to the spiritual guru can even replace the offering towards God. In the words of Swami Brahamanda: “Think that all activity which you have to perform is that of God. If you can work, understand and keep in mind this idea, then your detached work will not bind you anymore”.
I close these considerations with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “The most elevated form of adoration consists in the accomplishment of God’s work, obeying to the moral law and serving humanity unselfishly and with abnegation.” (Religious ethics). When we follow this principle – that we should never selfishly consider ourselves the authors of action – we are acting through non-action. Then the eternal spark of Divinity in us (known in India as the Supreme Self, Purusha or Atman), who is a detached witness, observes and – without partaking – accomplishes the action with detachment through the agency of the active elements in us. Kåñna refers to this truly divine attitude, in a famous aphorism from Bhagavad Gita: “The one who during the detached action can find inaction and who simultaneously can see the action continuing even after it has stopped, that one is, amongst many, the one of right judgement and of discernment; he is indeed in [the state of] Yoga and he is the universal worker endowed with many paranormal capacities (siddhis)”.
A warning is necessary here. It often happens that we think or imagine that we are ‘inspired’ to perform something or even that we are ‘guided’ to a specific action, coming thus to the conclusion, true or false, that we are not at all the author of that action” in the meaning given by Karma Yoga. This is a very dangerous trap, very often present on the path of spiritual realisation. To avoid falling into this trap it is necessary to ask ourselves (as lucidly and objectively as possible) if this impression, which we lightly call “intuition”, is merely a disguise for a personal desire. This desire can be very honourable, but we are talking here about Karma Yoga and about following this spiritual path in full honesty. Here, one incomplete but useful criterion is to look, if the activity that we would like to start contains any remaining traces of selfish personal attachment, as previously discussed.
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