Action with Humility

Often in my lectures, I exhort the audience to take no credit for their actions because then they won’t have to suffer the negative karmic results or be burdened with the equally binding positive karma. Of course, this is a simplified inspirational message. The reality is more complex.

Karma is an immutable cosmic law that we don’t fully understand and have not defined in a rigorous manner. What we have are some hints from the sages who were more intent on laying down guidelines for us to live so that we can avoid future bad karma. For those who wished to be freed from the karmic circle of non-intentional birth and death, they formulated practical spiritual systems such as Yoga.

My words were inspired by the message of Lord Krishna in the yogic classic Bhagavadgita – “one attains Self-realization by doing one’s duty with efficiency and without attachment to the results.” He further goes on to say that detachment can be attained by, “dedicating all works to me, free from desire and attachment.” The result of such practice is – “freedom from the bondage of Karma.”

Now, anyone who has ever tried to follow Krishna’s counsel sincerely will immediately realize that it isn’t easy to be detached from the results of one’s actions. We feel elation and pride when the results are positive and we feel remorse or fear when the results are negative. This is just human nature because we identify with our ego and cannot escape from the feeling that we are somehow the actors and fully responsible for our actions.

Only when one is Self-realized and no longer identifies with the body and mind can one truly act without attachment and dedicate all works to the divine. In the meantime, all we can do is pretend, imagine or attempt to be detached. This can be problem if it encourages us to reject responsibility for our actions.

In the process of detachment, the first phase is to actively refuse to take credit for the good that we have done. We need to offer to the divine all the praises that may be heaped on us by well-wishers. Of course, this will not be a perfect act and we cannot help but feel proud but any attempt at true humility will loosen the hold of attachment. Any acknowledgement of the divine actor within us will loosen the hold of the ego.

Naturally, when our actions result in insult or injury and when we are blamed for the consequences, we need to be humble enough to take it and move on. We are still responsible for our actions and need to maintain a level of awareness of the karmic environment. Offer our pain and suffering to the divine actor as well. Will it make us feel better or increase our level of consciousness? Not at the beginning but over time, as our humility becomes more entrenched and automatic, we will understand the law of karma better and be guided more and more by our inner ethical compass (the inner guide).

It is well to keep in mind that the body and mind are always subject to the law of karma. As we strive to attain a higher level of consciousness, we need to follow the ethical guidelines bestowed on us by the ancient sages. A Self-realized yogi does not identify with either the body or mind and so is not affected nor bound by karma but will still function within its limits without violating the universal law. Another way to look at this scenario is that the actions of the Self-realized are always the right one at the right time and so the results have a neutral effect, since he has not acted out of any consideration of good or bad, right or wrong for himself or even others.

For those who are on the spiritual journey and struggling with their fears and desires, there are three paths of actions, the good path, the bad path and the right path. Good or bad is a subjective criteria from the perspective of the un-realized actor – sometimes what one feels is bad for oneself today may be considered good the next day – it is highly variable from person to person and in time. From that person’s perspective, the right path may sometimes coincide with the good path which provides no conflict but when it coincides with the bad path then it becomes inconvenient. For the Self-realized, there is only the right path.