We should never be attached to action itself
If we shouldn’t be attached to the fruits of action, then logically the question arises if it is necessary to be attached to the action itself when we decide to accomplish it. The answer of Bhagavad Gita is clear: “As those who do not know, act with attachment, similarly those who truly understand, know that they must act without any attachment.”
To a visitor who was very pious, but attached to an important social activity, Sri Ramakrishna gave the following prayer: “Regarding the little work which I still have to do, please God, help me to have the strength to accomplish it without attachment” (Teachings ofRamakrishna). Informed by one of his disciples – who just returned from a travel abroad – about the prevalent state of spirit in the West, Ramakrishna said: “The excessive attachment to action that exists in the U.S.A. and in the U.K. is to be condemned because it will shortly bring about spiritual decadence”.
Ma Ananda Moyi gives clear details in the same direction: “If for a certain reason the slightest resentment appears, then the action cannot be considered without attachment. Let’s suppose that you do the biggest part of a work and then, for some reason, you must abandon it and let somebody else take over. This other person will bring the work to completion and will receive the merit for the whole work. If this will even slightly bother you how could we then say that this was a detached action? No doubt that the desire that someone should be grateful to you is still existing in you. In the middle of any action, at any moment, in any circumstances, you should be ready to detachedly obey to any necessity of the moment. Suppose that you are very hungry and, at the moment you bring some food to your mouth, somebody is asking you to go somewhere. In that right moment you should happily abandon the food and detachedly fulfil the request. Such an attitude reveals the one who is firmly anchored in a state of happiness that doesn’t belong to this world.
When we are approaching the permanent inner state where no effort is necessary, to be punished or rewarded for a mistake that rises during the performance of our task is of complete indifference to us. Then we are just detached instruments that are offering themselves to the hands of God. The body is then acting as a detached instrument and we are detachedly looking at the action as spectators. Then we realise with lucidity the great number of tasks that we can accomplish through the intermediary of this body. This state gives us a huge energy and high efficiency. The total non-egotistical action is filled with beauty, leading to the state of beatitude, because it is not motivated by any selfish desire for self-satisfaction. As long as the obstacle represented by our ego is not overcome, even if we think that we should act detachedly, we will not be able to do so and will often be hurt and suffer (because we desire at least some of the fruits of our actions). This will bring about at least a change in the expression of our eyes and of our face, and this significant aspect is easily visible and perceptible in our entire way of being” (Teachings ofMa Ananda Moyi).
Just like desiring the fruits of an action is only a form of selfish desire – even if this is one of the most difficult to overcome – the selfish attachment to the action itself is also one of the many forms of attachment, maybe the most subtle. In Bhagavad Gita, Kåñna considers as selfish attachment to the activities of this world, not only the attachment to action, but also attachment to a thing, a being, a place, attachment to a home and even attachment to understanding. He stresses that “only the one who has renounced all selfish attachments is not bound any more to sin”, “only that person will instantly discover the infinite happiness which exists in the Supreme inner self”.
Sri Aurobindo shows that “all selfish attachments perturbs or hinders the spiritual work” (Answers). He insists: “If we select as spiritual path only the Yoga of action then we can remain in saàsara (even after we reach the highest attainment) but this will be with free consent and saàsara will be then considered as our field of free action (at that level of accomplishment there is no obligation to act). In his inner self, the yogi should always be free of all bindings and selfish attachments” (Practical Yoga). Swami Vivekananda reveals that in most cases, even when unaware of it, the selfish attachment “appears only when we expect a certain reward” (Practical Yoga). This situation is common both for the selfish desire for the fruits of the action and for the fear of the fruits of action.
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