The True Object of Action


Chapter III, Stanza 20

Literal Translation:

Indeed by performing (right) action only Janaka and others (other saints like him) reached perfection. Also, simply for the purpose of guiding mortals, you should perform action.


Janaka, who was a king and an enlightened Yogi, performed his proper worldly royal mission (by giving good government to his subjects) and also accomplished the supreme duty of finding God. But this great saint was so strong-willed that he never let his intricate state duties interfere with his supreme task, whereas short-sighted mortals over-emphasize the performance of worldly duties and the gaining of temporal earthly happiness. Keeping themselves engrossed in these pursuits they forget to meditate for the attainment of ever-lasting Divine Bliss. Idlers, and error-stricken young Yogis, seeing only the actionless state of some yogis who have attained, usually think that the supreme good can be attained without action. Hence the Gita warns that King Janaka and similar saints attained perfection by right action (and not by desire -influenced selfish actions or actionlessness). The Yogi should perform worldly actions as well as spiritual actions of meditation-but with one object: to please God and reach Him. Then material duties change into spiritual duties.

The Gita adds that already perfect souls such as Janaka, who no longer have to perform any actions for their own evolution, still continue to perform constructive actions in order to set a high example for those who can be liberated only by good actions and not by inaction. Such great yogis can keep the life force switched off from the senses in ecstasy so that the body is inert, like a corpse. They have attained complete control over the body by Pranayama (life-control techniques). But many forego that state part of the time, just so that they can illustrate to young yogis the necessity of performing certain duties in the Divinely planned Cosmic Drama before they can reach the inactive state.

Two Types of Action

Commenting upon these stanzas Swami Pranabananda says that in them the difference between material action and spiritual action has been shown: "Material actions are those which are performed in connection with the physical man, whereas spiritual actions -,re those which are performed in connection with the spiritual man. Physical actions are gross and tangible. Spiritual actions are real but subtle. The purpose of material actions is to acquire some material comfort in the world. The aim of spiritual actions is to find the soul.

"Of course by selected material actions such as eating spiritual food, divine behavior, and cleanliness the devotee purifies his body and makes it more harmonious for spiritual culture.

"But spiritual actions such as dispassion to sense-objects, love of soul, intuition, meditation, these are all intangible and yet ultimately help to find the hidden power of the soul within the body."

It may appear to a devotee that by its emphasis on non-attachment, the Gita is even teaching nonattachment to the soul. Such an interpretation would not be valid, because the misery-producing thorn of attachment to sensations can only be plucked out by the sharp thorn of Divine Love.

Lahiri Mahasaya always quoted the great Rishi Astabakra's teaching: If you want freedom from reincarnation, then abhor sense-pleasures as you would sugar-coated poison, and be as devotedly attached to acts of forgiveness, pity, contentment, love of truth and God, as to drinking nectar.

If you are attached to worldly desires, they can never end, but must multiply. If you turn from them long enough to taste the superior divine joys, then your desires for lesser Pleasures of the senses will fade away. So forsake attachment to worldly desires and cling to Divine desires-in this way all misery-making material longings will be displaced by longings for God.

Chapter III, Stanza 21

Literal Translation:

All that the superior individual performs, that the inferior people imitate. What actions he demonstrates, that the people of the world try to follow.


Some saints, knowing that examples talk louder than words, feel that they should continue to perform constructive actions since well-intentioned but unadvanced worldly people who desire to evolve will at least try to imitate them. One who has reformed himself can by his mere presence reform thousands without a single preaching. For such a man is like a rose-he makes everyone who comes near him fragrant with goodness. So while saints who have attained the ultimate end need not follow any man-made rules, they often follow accepted rules of conduct and even continue to show their devotion to the Divine One outwardly in order to help spiritual novices in the path.

For example, a man who has attained God may smoke or drink or eat meat, even be married and have children, without losing what be has gained. Still, for the sake of setting an example, he will probably continue his ascetic conduct because it will help others on the path and prevent them from misunderstanding. Many reason, "Jesus drank and ate meat, therefore I will do that now and reach his spiritual state later." Worldly people will imitate the wrong habits of a master easily, but they will inevitably omit following his highest virtues if these are hidden in his soul and not constantly illustrated in outward form.

For instance, untrained disciples reason, "Master does this or that and is not punished by karma. He doesn't meditate regularly therefore I won't." The disciple does not understand that once a master is one with God he has attained the object of meditation and thus need not meditate. Meditation is the path and God is the palace of all contentment. When the Master reaches his destination-his palatial home of complete contentment -he cannot still be walking on the path of meditation, which is only a means to reach the destination.

Or, if the Master talks against drinking and yet drinks, he contradicts himself in the eyes of his disciples who superficially judge him (even if he is not affected by it), and they think, "Why, Master tells us not to drink and yet he drinks! Why shouldn't we follow the actions of our master?" That is why the Gita reminds "the superior individual" to be careful for the sake of others, since his meditations, good actions, and practice of good habits will really be a series of demonstrations for those who follow him- or even watch him from a distance, or hear of him through others.

The Doubtful Disciple

Once, in India, a Master used to eat meat whenever he was a guest in some home, but he strictly instructed his disciples to eat only fruits and vegetables. Once this Master ate a lot of meat while his disciples ate only fruits, and then be took them for a long hike. After thirty miles, the panting disciples were all in but the Master was still calm and strong. Then a Thomas-like disciple called Rama started a whispering campaign against the Master. "If we ate meat like the Master we could walk miles without fatigue too."

The Master was aware of the attitude of this disciple who doubted his wisdom, and as they walked he asked, "Rama, can you eat what I eat?"

Rama eagerly cried, "Yes, Sir!" thinking the Master was going to give him some meat to eat.

But just beyond a turn in the road they came to a place where a blacksmith was pulling red hot nails out of a fire. Calling, "Rama, come here," the Master went to sit by the fire and, with his bare hands, nonchalantly started pulling out the red hot nails and swallowing them. Then he looked at the reluctant Rama and said. "Come on, Rama, join me. If I can eat red hot iron nails, you, of course, can do so and not suffer from their bodily effects-just as you think you can eat meat as I do and not suffer from its unspiritual effects'

Of course Rama was cured! So. even if great Masters sometimes ignore the rules established for novices on the path, they can always prove to their true disciples that they are not affected by any material habit.

The Superior Power

The words of this stanza of the Gita can also be interpreted as referring to powers rather than persons. (As I have said before, this supreme scripture can be interpreted according to its material, astral or spiritual import.) When the life-force is withdrawn from the senses and transferred toward the brain, there is a sense of superior power and in that power the inferior bodily sensations are dissolved. A devotee should not keep the life-force attached to the senses all the time, lest they always remain tied to the enjoyment of sensations. If, by ecstatic meditation, he learns to withdraw his life-force to the superior path of spine and brain, then automatically all the inferior senses will follow, i.e., be absorbed in the cerebral light. This happens even in deep Sleep-all the ordinary senses attached to sight, taste, touch, etc., are absorbed in the semi-conscious enjoyment of the soul, felt during sleep. When in deep sleep the life remains switched off from the muscles and the senses-they remain tuned in with supreme Bliss.

You can think of the mind as the superior force in the body. Whatever the mind sees and stresses, all the inclinations, moods, desires and habits will follow. They put on the dominant habits and actions of the mind and reflect its salient traits. So the supreme force of the mind must outwardly be kept busy with constructive material actions and routine, even though it is inwardly united to supreme Bliss by ecstasy. Then, if the mind is blissful, the senses will demonstrate Bliss-just as the senses will register gloom or wrath if the mind indulges in moods or anger.

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