Sacrifice in action

It has been written several times in this blog that God is revealed only in love. How this love cultivated? Is it cultivated by developing emotional states or getting into relationships?

Some teachers preached the way of knowledge. Kṛṣṇa also preached the way of knowledge but one in which one does not sit cross-legged with closed eyes forever, but one that involves everyday action. This method is called Karma Yoga or skill in action.

The starting point of Karma Yoga is an initial awakening to the fact that there are two categories: material and spiritual. This understanding does not require any theory about these categories but only a first-level acknowledgement. Otherwise, there is mis-identification of oneself with the mind and body.

There are three elements to Karma Yoga which are called the three sacrifices. The sacrifices are to be performed with understanding and not as rituals.

  1. The sacrifice of agency: The unexamined mind assumes endless freedom in action and yet constantly finds itself in conflict. This is an open paradox that we miss right in front of our eyes. The project of life is not easy as it is. On top of it, we carry on our shoulders the burden of agency. I have to do this and then that. If we examine carefully we find that the work is made possible only because of the conditions of the universe. The mind and body are in sufficient health to perform the action. We subsist on food which is organic life. We need water and air. That is how we get energy to act.  The intention to perform the action has arisen in our awareness. Our environment is conducive to allow the action to be performed. So, who is the agent of action? While one is entitled to think that one participates in the action, it is clear that we are not independent agents. An action depends on innumerable preconditions. It is only by these preconditions that an action is occasioned. When one attains this knowledge, one acts out of gratitude that the action has been made possible. It is beautiful that any action is possible and when it occurs, it feels to be us. Then, action becomes less burdensome and complicated.
  2. The sacrifice of possessiveness: A trauma greater than agency is possessiveness regarding action. This is my action; I need to get it done and succeed at it. This thought is the root cause of psychological stress. What am I doing with my life? What should I do next to succeed? Where is my life headed? Am I a big failure and a disappointment? One can hear these voices in the darkest hour. These voices are the most cruel suffering one can inflict upon oneself. Once again, by careful reflection, one can find that the action does not belong to us. An action is occasioned only by preconditions. If anything, the action belongs more to the circumstance than to this puny me. The realities of our existence – the need for food, water, money, health, contingencies – make us act and we can act only if we are disposed to act. So, action belongs to the complete condition of reality and not just to me.
  3. The sacrifice of fruit: A key distraction from action is the constant obsession with result. Has the result come forth? Is this working for me? Am I getting anything out of this? Obsessing with the result leads to unskilled action. Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, You are qualified only to act; you are powerless in results. Constantly worrying about results does not help action. Even when the results come, they come because of a variety of conditions. One cannot say that one produced a result completely discounting the environment which made the result possible. Also, a result that is favorable to one may be unfavorable to another. Today, we have this insatiable quest for money. We destroy the environment with impunity as long as we can make a few extra bucks. So, results have to be interpreted not simply from our narrow selfish perspective but from a wholesome perspective. It is the state of reality that births a result and carries endless meaning to its constituents. This understanding is the third sacrifice.

Acting with these three sacrifices removes selfishness and purifies the mind. Such action becomes a true worship of God, who is the Real manifesting as all reality. It provides space for one to appreciate who one truly is and cultivates deep love.

In a mature state of this understanding, the sage Tagore wrote,

What divine drink wouldst thou have, my God, from this overflowing cup of my life?

My poet, is it thy delight to see thy creation through my eyes and to stand at the portals of my ears silently to listen to thine own eternal harmony?

Thy world is weaving words in my mind and thy joy is adding music to them. Thou givest thyself to me in love and then feelest thine own entire sweetness in me.


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