Activity vs Sobriety OR Activity and Sobriety
Question: Active persons cannot be calm and sober, and vice versa. What is the secret and method of being active and sober?
Swamiji: There seems to be a conflict between activity and peace of mind. It is a sensible question indeed because this is the difficulty that we face every day, due to which we feel like renouncing things and going to caves and doing nothing, because doing is a great bondage. But the central gospel of the Bhagavadgita is perhaps that doing need not necessarily be a bondage, and that activity is unavoidable. If at all there is any message to us from the Bhagavadgita, it is this, that action is not an opposite of knowledge, peace of mind, divine aspiration, God’s vision, etc.
Activity seems to conflict with peace of mind or inner composure, etc., due to an erroneous outlook in life. There are many answers to this question given in the Bhagavadgita itself. I am not going to mention all of them, due to lack of time. One of the points that are made out in the Bhagavadgita is that we are all obsessed with the notion that we are the doers of action, and if we are the doers of action, we have to reap the fruits of the action. Naturally, the recompense of the action comes upon us as pleasure or pain, which disturbs our minds.
The Bhagavadgita tells us that no one in this world does anything. Everyone participates in a great activity of the universe; we may call it the activity of God if we like. The human individual and every created being is so inextricably involved in the structure of creation that everyone seems to be moving, doing, acting because the universe is moving, doing, acting. We seem to be moving because the railway train in which we are seated is moving. To imagine that we are carrying the load or the burden of action on our heads and worrying about it would be like the poor rustic who was riding in the railway train and still carrying his baggage on his head in order to lessen the weight which the train was carrying because he wanted the train to move a little bit faster.
Hence, we require a great training and education to understand the mystery of action. It is very difficult to understand what action is. Action is not necessarily what we seem to be doing with our limbs, with our hands and feet. It is a vibration that is set up by the will of God, and it is sympathetically communicated to every lower level of creation. The will of Ishvara is the original action which, like the ripple that moves towards the periphery or the shore of a large lake, makes itself felt in all individuals like us. The push and pull that we feel towards activity of any kind is the vibration of the central core of the cosmos working through us for a purpose which is not mine, not yours. To think that we are acting for our purpose, for anybody’s purpose, would be a mistake. We are participants in a cosmic purpose with universal intention, and therefore, neither do we gain anything nor do we lose anything by a participation of this nature.
The word ‘activity’ has somehow or other conveyed to us a wrong meaning due to association of ideas. We think activity means moving from place to place or vibrating our physical limbs. It is an outpouring of our being in the direction of the fulfilment of an objective or a purpose which to us appears to be purely personal or localised, as if there is my purpose, my objective separate or different from yours, while really the purpose behind this pouring of my being into outward expression in the form of empirical activity is not possible.
This impersonal participation in the purpose of God’s creation is what the Bhagavadgita calls karma yoga. You will not have to gain anything from what you do, nor have you to lose anything. The legs do not gain or lose anything by walking. They are walking for somebody else’s sake. The legs walked to the bank. The money that we draw from the bank does not go to the legs, though they have walked so much. The eyes see, the ears hear, and the enjoyer or the participant is somebody else. We know very well how beautifully the mechanism of a huge engine or a robot operates for an output which is transcendent to the machine itself. We have to realise that every engagement of ours has a purpose transcendent to the engagement itself.
Thus it is that we have to understand the meaning of karma or action as a participation in the larger purpose of God’s creation, and not grab something for our purpose, because we have no purpose here. This is a difficult thing to understand. It requires protracted training under a competent Master.
——–Answer is by Swami Krishnananda, given on April 14, 1982
Swami Krishnananda Saraswati (25 April 1922 – 23 November 2001) was a disciple of Sivananda Saraswati and served as the General Secretary of the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh, India from 1958 until 2001. Author of more than 40 texts, and lecturing extensively, on yoga, religion, and metaphysics, Krishnananda was a prolific theologian, saint, yogi and philosopher.