The Two Ways Of Performing Action
“Karma” or “action” is the very foundation of our existence. A second does not go by without anybody performing any action. People are continuously involved in performing one or the other tasks—eating, drinking, talking, driving, etc. But action does not refer to physical activity alone. Every word, every thought that arises in the mind represents an action being performed. The whole universe works on the principle of action and reaction.
The Hindu shastras/scriptures call this phenomenon which forms the very basic functioning principle of the cosmos “karma”. Every situation, good or bad a person faces in his life is the fruits of his past actions (karma phala). Every person or animal, a person encounters or comes in contact with, is result of some karmic bond (called in scriptures as “rina bandha” ) present between them. Many people often understand this negatively to mean “destiny” or “no-free will”. But, that is only a misconception. On the other hand, karmic law is based on complete free-will—a person has to make choices to take decisions in every situation he faces. The karma phala (fruits of action) one gets is entirely depended on the karmas one performs. As the saying goes, “As you sow, so you reap” the whole universe is based on this karmic law of action and its fruits.
The shastras speak of the two ways a person can perform the karmas—sakaama and nishkaama. “Sakaama” refers to performing an action with an eye towards the fruits that action will bore. Such action may lead a person to temporary happiness/sukha or to temporary sorrow/dukka depending upon whether the karmic fruit was as per the expectation of the person or not. On the other hand, the karmas performed in nishkaama way, i.e performing an action with the sense of duty without expecting any result, such a person will find inner contentment irrespective of the karmic fruits.
“Sakaama karmas” increase attachment to the sensory world. As there is no end to the desires of the person, he will be eternally pursuing one desire after another performing countless number of karmas. He will be ever-struck in this karmic cycle of sukha-dukka. Brahmavaivartha purana (1) says thus-
Avashyameva bhoktavyam krutakarma shubhaa shubam |
Naabhuktamkshiyate karma kalpa-koti-shaitairapi ||
A person will definitely enjoy the fruits of his action; it may be good or bad; for without giving the results, an action does not die out even after billions of years.
Hence, these karmas are also called as “Bandhaka karmas”, actions that increases the bondage to the sensory world. If the same karmas that cause bandhana/bondage are performed in nishkama way, surrendering the fruits of action to God, giving up one’s sense of doership of action, such karmas will become “mochaka”—a way to liberation from this karmic cycle of birth and death. Shastras say-
Krutena Karmana | Akrutena Mokshaha||
Performing action leads to karma, performing actionless action leads to moksha.
“Krutena” means “performing action”. Any activity performed with the sense of identification with doing it, will invariably lead to the bondage of karmic cycle. Even though literally “akrutena” means “not performing action”, the real meaning is not “inaction” but what can be described as “action-less action”, i.e performing an action without ahamkara—sense of I-ness of performing it. In other words, surrendering to God the action, its fruits and the sense of doership of it.
By Nithin Sridhar