Sadhguru on the Bhagavad Gita: From Action to Yoga
Sadhguru answers a question on Krishna’s words about yoga and activity, and their place in a spiritual seeker’s life.
Questioner: Krishna says that in the initial stages, yoga can be attained by action, and then, for perfection, all activities will have to be terminated. In some other place he says, even a sanyasi cannot be free from activity. Can you explain?
Sadhguru: Let me read this for those of you who don’t have the book with you.
“The Lord of Sri said, ‘One who does his duties properly and renounces the fruit of his action is both a renunciate and a yogi. It is not possible to become a sanyasi merely by forgoing work and sacrificial fire. O Son of Pandu! Sanyasa is yoga, because only by giving up all selfish impulses can one attain yoga. For someone who has just begun yoga, accomplishment of yoga can be attained by action. But for those who have already attained yoga, perfection is possible through termination of all activity. When all attachment towards sense objects and action cease, all material impulses stop, one attains yoga. Whether one attains elevation or degradation through one’s mind is up to oneself, for the mind can be one’s friend or one’s foe.”
When he says, “One who does his duties properly and renounces the fruit of action is both a renunciate and a yogi. It is not possible to become a sanyasi merely by forgoing work and sacrificial fire,” it means that it is not the action which is entangling. To give an example – let’s say you are an accountant. Going to the office, counting numbers, coming home does not entangle you. But you are going to the office because it gives you a certain prestige, access, and other benefits. You are going to the office not because you love to count numbers but for the fruit of action. He is trying to take that away from you. If you do not get any salary, no prestige, no social access, no benefits of any kind – would you still be willing to work? It is not that you should not eat or enjoy what is around you, but if those things were not there, would you still work with the same intensity? That is what is of utmost value and significance here.
The volunteers here who are cooking in the kitchen, arranging all these flowers, doing all this work, are not getting a prize. They are not getting paid; they do not even get to sit in the hall. But do you think they do anything with resentment, like “I do not get to participate in the Leela, so why the hell should I do all this”? There is none. They are simply doing it. This is renouncing the fruit of action. Enormous effort is being made, without expecting the fruit of action. Often, there is not even a word of acknowledgement from me, because I do not want them to get entangled with that either.
Once you renounce the fruit of action, action will come easily. Once someone simply does it for the love of what they are doing, and above all because they want someone else to enjoy it, it does not matter whether they get to sit there too or not. Once you renounce the fruit of action, action is not entangling. It is never what you do which entangles you. It is the expectation of what you should get which entangles you. Just observe yourself – wherever you do action without expectation, what is your experience? Wherever you do action with expectation, what is your experience? If you look at that, you will speak Gita.
Since you will not drop the fruit of action out of awareness, there is so much talk about love. When you have a deep sense of love for someone, it is easier to drop the fruit of action. In this sense, generally everywhere in the world and especially in this culture, women are better karma yogis than men. Being a housewife with husband and children is a full-time job. If they cook, whether they themselves eat or not, they want the child and the husband to eat. Everything they do is done without expecting any fruit of action. Somehow, they have a different quality about themselves, a certain sense of peace and life. In this generation, it is dissipating because they are getting educated, and unfortunately, the way education is structured right now, it creates endless want.
Once you are educated, there is no question of sitting and relaxing. You must be “on” endlessly. Modern education has brought this madness in progress. During the 60’s, one of the hippies slogans was “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Do you want to be one? The hippie movement’s intention was right – longing to break away, longing to know another dimension of life – but unfortunately, it happened without guidance. Some opportunistic people misused this, and the whole thing floundered. People used drugs, killed themselves, got drunk and only hastened their destruction rather than getting anywhere. Some people got their lives straightened out, others got washed away.
Becoming free from the fruit of action is a complete release. Action is never a suffering. It is expecting the fruit of action which causes suffering. If you did not expect anything, you would work joyfully, and with tremendous ability, because what comes in the end is not the point. If you enjoyed doing something, you would simply throw yourself absolutely into it. That is the culture we want to create.
“O Son of Pandu! Sanyasa is yoga, because only by giving up all selfish impulses can one attain yoga.” This is the same thing said in a different way. He clarifies here that sanyasa does not mean not doing anything. It just means you have given up selfish impulses – “selfish” not in social terms but in the sense of being too concerned about the fruit of action. No matter if it is not for you but for other people – your family, your community or whoever – you should do all this without any great expectation of the fruit. If you get a fruit, eat it – there is nothing wrong with that. It is not the fruit that kills you. It is the expectation of the fruit of action that kills you.
“For someone who has just begun yoga, accomplishment of yoga can be attained by action. But for one who has already attained yoga, perfection is possible through termination of all activity.”
Many people ask me, “Shall I just come to the ashram?” Their idea is to drop all the action that they have been doing in their lives – their responsibilities, their family, their work, their business – and come here to just meditate. No – even here, we put people to action, because the part of their prarabdha that is dedicated to action is not yet exhausted. Prarabdha is an allotted amount of karma. Certain amounts of your life energy are dedicated to different aspects, including action, thoughts, and emotions. You have to either expend or transcend the energy dedicated to action. The simplest way is to expend it. If you work more, the energy allotted for action is expended sooner.
Unless you expend the allotted energy, you cannot sit still. If you want to sit here without any movement within you, without a single thought or emotion or anything else, simply like empty space, you have to work to expend that energy. Otherwise, you must do the necessary sadhana to transform this energy into something else, which is much subtler and takes a deeper level of sadhana. Expending energy through excessive action is good in the earlier phase of sadhana. That is why he says, “For someone who has just begun yoga, accomplishment of yoga can be attained by action.” Here, he does not mean accomplishment in the sense of ultimate accomplishment.
The next sentence is: “But for one who has already attained yoga, perfection is possible through termination of all activity.” Once you have expended your prarabdha karma, which means the energy allotted for action is used up, you terminate all activity and attain perfection. One level of human consciousness or experience is referred to as yoga – another level is translated as “perfection.” Do we have the original Sanskrit? Chapter Six, Verse Three.
Participant: Yogarudhasya tasyaiva shamah karanam ucchyate
Sadhguru: The English translation may not be accurate. Anyway – for a beginner, action is good. First you have to bring yourself to the point where you transcend the basic force of physical existence – the karmic bondage or prarabdha. When all attachment to sense objects and actions cease and all material impulses stop, one attains yoga. Instead of talking about the mind, he talks about the senses. Both are connected – the five senses are the mouths of the mind. Without the five senses, the mind has no feed. If the sense organs do not take in anything, the mind has no food to go on with.
Absolute inaction is samadhi. In samadhi, you drop both external and internal activity – even the physiological activity drops. Termination of activity is not only about outer activity but also inner activity – thoughts, emotions, bodily functions – everything is still.
Editor’s Note: Watch the Leela series, where Sadhguru explores the life and path of Krishna. Available as a free webstream – one part every week.