ost of you who grew up in this culture would have been exposed to a fair amount of talk about karma. Still, the question remains how to get out of this seemingly endless cycle of activity and karma, cause and effect? Are there activities that are more conducive than others on the path to liberation? Actually, no activity at all would be best – no movement in the body, no movement in the head. But how many people are capable of that? This happened towards the end of the British Raj, when the independence movement was growing strong, and the British knew their rule in India would soon come to an end. Before they left, they wanted to grab as much as they could. When the Great Depression hit economies around the world, their eyes fell on the South Indian temples. Even though people were poor and starving, they took care of their gods well, and the temples accumulated huge treasures.
The British saw this as a great source of revenue and brought the temples under their control. One day, one of the collectors came across the following entry in the account book of a temple: “Onnum Panaadha Swami ki Sapadu” – which translates as “food for the Swami who is not doing anything” – twenty-five rupees per month. The collector said, “Why should we feed a man who does not do anything? Cancel it.” Concerned, the temple priest went to the trustees and said, “How can we not feed him?” One of the trustees asked the collector to come with him to Swami who did nothing. The trustee requested the collector to simply be there and do nothing, just like that Swami. The collector thought, “What’s the big deal,” but within five minutes, he said, “Okay, feed this man.” This Swami did so much of nothing, something tremendous was happening there. Clueless of this dimension but nonetheless overwhelmed, the collector gave up.
Someone who does absolutely nothing is free from karmic memory and karmic cycles. As long as you are identified with your karmic memory, the past repeats itself. Karma means action and memory at the same time. There is no memory without action, and there is no action without memory. As long as you are ruled by your memory, it will drive you to do something. Only if you completely distance yourself from your past memory, will you be able to sit still. You can do an experiment – try to do nothing at all for ten minutes. No thoughts, no emotions, no movements. If this is not possible for you yet, if there are a thousand things going on in your mind and you cannot sit still, then activity is absolutely necessary. This applies to most human beings. Then what kind of activity should you choose? Should you drive a bus? Or ride a bicycle? Or swim in the river? Or sit in the office? Or gossip with your friends? Or smoke marijuana? What matters is not the nature of your activity but the way you conduct it.
Most people’s physical and mental condition is such that it demands activity. To bring the body and mind to a state of freedom from all activity takes a lot of work. For now, it is advisable to keep the body and mind on a certain level of alertness and agility, so that when the time comes, you are prepared. Until then, you need to throw yourself into incessant activity. The important thing is not to give yourself a break. And the activity should not be about you. When you do something that is needed for someone else, the activity you perform is not your own. You have nothing to get, nothing to show. Doing activity as an offering is a simple way of turning off the karmic recorder within you. As long as you have the need to do something and you identify with your activity, the karmic recorder records this activity for you, and its consequences will multiply. By contrast, if you yourself do not have the need to do anything, but you do something because it is needed by someone else or something else, then the activity will not result in karmic bondage.
If you are capable of it, no activity at all is the way to go. It takes a lot not to do anything on any level, neither physically nor mentally nor emotionally. Until you get there, do activity as an offering, without identifying with it. If there is something that needs to be done, you do it. Otherwise, you simply sit. If you do not perform activity out of self-importance, it will not have karmic consequences. Karma grows from self-gratification and self-importance. If you are fully alive and active but do not gather any new karma, your old karma will start falling off. This is the nature of karma. The old layers of karma can only stick to you if you keep adding new layers of karmic glue. If nothing that happened today sticks to you, the karmic memory of what happened in the past will disintegrate.
If you perform every activity as an offering, your karmic bondage will start to unravel. Until you are capable of doing nothing, do whatever you want, but do it as an offering within yourself. In a state of offering, you become available to Grace.