The Science of Action
What is action? Action is the relative change of position or place of an object. When an object is transferred from one place to another, or when an object acquires a new position temporarily or permanently leaving its former position, we call it an action. When an overweight person loses weight after strenuous physical exercise, it can also be called an action because he or she now occupies less space than before.
No action can be performed in the absence of the will. Will the initial stage of each action, and is thus called the primary action. One may think that actions such as the beating of the heart, sleeping and awakening occur independently of the will, but this is not so. In these actions, too, the will plays a dominant role.
In the mundane sphere some actions depend on the unit will and some on the Cosmic Will. Human beings move according to their individual wills but the wind blows according to the Cosmic Will. Actually, most of the actions which human beings supposedly perform by their own will are directly guided by the Cosmic Will. Some actions are performed by the indirect human will, such as the beating of the heart. When the indirect will ceases to function it should be understood that one’s individual saḿskáras (reactions in potentiality) have been fully exhausted. Under such circumstances a person is sure to die. This death is called the final glorious death (mahámrtyu).
Most people who commit suicide do not have the direct will to survive. However, their indirect will remains partially active, sustained by the desire to be free of the untold sorrows, miseries, and humiliations of this life. Deep within they cherish an indirect desire to acquire a new, dignified life in another world after death. This desire is the work of the indirect will. Their indirect will seeks a way to escape the ignominy of humiliation and build a new and better life in the future. Their will did something in the past for which they must undergo their present humiliation.
The Macrocosmic Will is eternally active behind the creation of this universe. This Supreme Will of Parama Puruśa is termed Shambhúliuṋga in philosophy.
An action which is done independently is called pratyayaḿulaka karma (original action). Suppose one has a desire to go to Calcutta and then actually goes there. This is an original action because to go or not to go to Calcutta depends entirely on one’s will. But an action which one is obliged to perform mechanically under pressure of circumstances is called saḿskáraḿulaka karma (reaction to the original action). In these actions it is the indirect will and not the direct will which functions. The original deed which was performed by the direct will is later expressed as a reaction by the indirect will. Your indirect will forces you to become a tool to restore the equilibrium in the universe which was lost due to your original action.
In sámskáraḿulaka karma individuals have no free will, but are slaves to the dictates of the indirect will. Suppose a person commits a theft by his free will. As long as the reaction of the original action of theft is unexpressed, his indirect will remains in seed form as reactive momenta. But the moment the indirect will finds a congenial environment it expresses itself, resulting in the thief either being arrested by the police, or having to undergo some punishment or humiliation. This is how the thief reaps the consequences of his previous action of theft.
Good reactions to good actions are experienced in a similar way. One will have to reap the consequences of one’s past actions until one’s saḿskáras are exhausted. If one’s previous deeds were virtuous, life will be blessed, but if they were wicked, one will be branded as a sinner. Only when all good and bad reactions have been expressed do the bondages of vice and virtue snap open.
All actions, whether introversial or extroversial, crude or subtle certainly lie latent in individuals in seed form as potential reactions. One day, with the help of the indirect will, they will be expressed in the external world. Suppose one harms someone. The reaction of one’s action will lie in potential form until the proper time and place arrives for its expression.
Even if one does not harm anyone physically, but simply thinks of harming someone, saḿskáras will still be created. Whatever feelings one may have for a person, good or bad, will certainly cause a reaction. That reaction will remain in potential form in the subtle mental sphere until the opportune time arrives for its expression. This is why wise people look upon this universe with an attitude of equanimity and pray for the welfare of all. Sarvesám mauṋgalam káunkśe. People who fail to do this will have to suffer endlessly for their mean-mindedness.
Action is of various types. When the mind, under the domination of avidyámáyá, is tossed by the waves of worldly desires, that is, when it associates itself with crude psychic pabulum, it is called abhilása (desire). When abhilása becomes firmly rooted it is called saḿkalpa (resolve) for attaining psychic pabulum. When the mind functions in collaboration with pránendriya and karmendriya (motor organs), it is called krti (physical action); and when it associates itself with pránendriya and the jiṋánendriya (sensory organs), the mental expansion is called avadhána (advertence). Abhilása, krti and avadhána are all actions.
Avadhána is of three types. When the sensory organs connect themselves to certain objects, but the mind does not accept them, that mental state is called anavadhánatá (inadvertence). For example, a student’s eyes may be reading the pages of a book while his or her mind is diverted elsewhere. Many students cannot learn their lessons due to this sort of inadvertence in study. When the mind perceives an object through the medium of the sensory organs, but does not have any deep knowledge about that object, then that special state of anavadhána is known as álocana jiṋána (sensation). Here the word álocana does not mean serious reflection.
The firmly established sensation which occurs when knowledge is acquired from various sources of an object is called perception (caettik pratyakśa). Perception may also be called coordinated sensation. Suppose three blind people feel an elephant to find out what it is like. The one who feels the legs might think that the elephant resembles the trunks of banana trees, the one who feels the trunk may think that the elephant is like a pipe, and the one who feels the ears may think that the elephant is like bamboo trays. Each one experiences a different kind of sensation. Only when the totality of the legs, trunks and ears is produced as an image in the mind can one acquire a true image of an elephant. The temporary idea acquired about an elephant is called perception.
When perception becomes meaningful, that is, when a particular name is given which corresponds to the nature of things already perceived, it is called conception. The perception of an elephant is only possible when all the parts of its body – legs, trunk, ears, etc. – produce an image of an elephant. When one sees the elephant a second time one thinks, “It looks just like the animal I saw previously. Yes, it must be an elephant.” When this confirmation occurs one can say that one has a concept about something.
When a past perception is recreated in the mind with the help of memory, it is called tattva-jiṋána. Tattvajiṋána can be of various types. In the process of meditation, the crude mind merges into the subtle mind, and the subtle mind loses its identity in the causal mind. When the newly awakened subtle and crude minds return to their active states, they perceive things in a completely different way. This new set of perceptions is also called tattva jiṋána or siddha jiṋána. In fact tattva jiṋána is also a type of action, though it is not included in avadhána.
It was explained earlier that krti occurs when the mind is associated with the motor organs and the práńendriya, and avadhána occurs when the mind is associated with the sensory organs and the práńendriya. But prior to reaching the stages of krti and avadhána the will must be converted into saḿkalpa (determination) or abhilása (desire). Saḿkalpa is more likely to be successful than abhilása. What is saḿkalpa? When the mind is firmly associated with its objects in a relationship of iron-determination it is called saḿkalpa. This vast universe has originated from the saḿkalpa of the Cosmic Mind.
Action depends on desire. The nature of an action is determined by the nature of the desire. Feelings of pain and pleasure occur in the mental sphere only because the vibrations of mental feelings are stored there. Reactive momenta are created out of these feelings of pain and pleasure. Desire originates from the sum total of one’s pain or pleasure. Put in another way, it can be said that desire (vásaná) is one’s total reactive momenta in potential form of all feelings of pleasure and pain. People determine their own course of action according to their inherent desire. It is desire which puts a bridle on people and drives them according to its whims. People rarely attain the results they seek. What they actually attain is determined by the nature of their original actions.
Human beings strive to acquire objects which satisfy their desires and avoid those objects which displease them. They only pursue those things which give them pleasure. Because of this psychology, human beings do not want to listen to bad news, see horrifying images. When they cannot avoid a painful situation they immediately close their eyes. This behaviour is a good example of how action depends on desire. To separate action from desire is impossible. If desire is compared to an earthen pot, then the water inside the pot is comparable to pratyayamúlaka karma. The water inside the pot assumes the form of the pot, that is, the action representing the water takes the same form as the desire representing the pot. The process of withdrawing the water-like karma from the pot-like desire is termed sádhaná (the process of attaining liberation). The action which assumes the shape of the pot-like desires is called karmáshaya (bundle of saḿskáras). The course of human life is determined by the nature of one’s bundle of saḿskáras.
The bundle of saḿskaras gets lighter due to non-original actions. After death this bundle loses its connection with the sensory organs, motor organs, práńendriya and mind. It becomes compact after imbibing a new set of saḿskáras of pain and pleasure. During a prolonged period of unconsciousness or at the time of death, the bundle of saḿskáras becomes even more compact. It can be created in one life or in many lives. Disease, grief and other deep sorrows are merely the reactions of self-created saḿskáras. After reaping such tremendous reactions as a result of the temporary disconnection of the sensory organs, motor organs, práńendriya and mind, a new bundle of saḿskáras is created which brings tremendous change to the fortunes of human beings.
According to one’s desires, original or non-original actions produce pleasurable or painful experiences, or both, or neither. Pleasure occurs when one’s actional vibrations create a congenial sensation which relaxes the nerve fibres, and pain occurs when one’s actional vibrations create tension in the nerve fibres.
By nature human beings long for pleasure and not pain. The action which creates a pleasurable sensation in the mind is called shukla karma (white action), and the vibration which creates a painful sensation is called kŕśńa karma (black action). The action which creates both pleasurable and painful experiences is called shuklakŕśna karma (black and white action), and the action which creates neither pleasurable nor painful experiences is called ashuklakŕśna karma (neither black nor white). Worldly actions are either shukla, kŕśna, or shuklakrśńa. Only an action or reaction related to samádhi, that is, spiritual sádhana, can be called ashuklakŕśna, for spiritual actions take one beyond the state of pleasure and pain. When the actional vibrations become embedded in the domain of desire, that is called saḿskára (reaction in potentiality). The saḿskára is destroyed by those actional vibrations which are equally powerful and opposite to the original actional vibrations.
Every living being which has a physical body has a mind. The átman or soul is the reflecting plate of the mind. As long as the existential feeling of human beings is reflected on the átman, human beings are considered alive. A videhii mana (bodiless mind) cannot function at all because existential feeling does not exist in its mind. The videhii mind only has a bundle of saḿskáras which rests on its spiritual base. This is why the videhii átman does not act as the witness to the functions or existential feeling of the bodiless mind. It remains only as the witness of its bundle of saḿskáras. Thus it is proper to call the átman, pratyak cetana (cognitive counterpart).
Pratiipam vipariitam aiṋcati vijánáti iti Pratyak.
As a rule, the bundle of saḿskáras that is continually formed until the moment of one’s death in this life, is exhausted through saḿskaramulaka karma (non-original actions) in one’s next life. Generally, the bundle of saḿskáras does not fully ripen during a person’s life unless there is a disconnection of the sensory organs, motor organs, práńendriya and mind. Thus the actions performed in one life are not experienced as reactions in the same life.
Generally, reactions start expressing themselves at the end of an actional flow. The moment a football loses its power to rise up in the air, it starts falling down to earth. Similarly the actional flow loses its momentum when it comes, in contact with the vásanábhánd́a (the pot of desires), and from that moment takes the form of reactions. Because of this, one is unable to discern the actions of a previous life which cause the reactions in the present life.
Ordinarily, one’s accumulated reactive momenta ripen at the time of death as a result of the disassociation of the sensory organs, motor organs, práńendriya and mind. These reactive momenta then take the form of reactions in the next life. Human beings fail to realize that it is quite natural for the reactions of past actions to be expressed in this life. Since they cannot see the original actions, they blame God for their fate.
Some people who spend their whole lives engaged in virtuous deeds suffer tremendously as a result of previous original actions. For the same reason, some people who performed wicked actions in a past life enjoy abundant pleasure in this life. When people experience reactions without understanding the nature o their original actions in previous lives it is called adrastavedaniiyakarma, or in short, adrsta (fate).
The mind may become temporarily detached from the sensory organs, motor organs and práńendriya when one suffers from a serious disease, a bereavement, or a fainting fit, etc., or when one’s kulakúńdalinii is awakened due to one’s association with a great person. When this detachment occurs, the bundle of saḿskáras ripens and the reactions of one’s present life start to express themselves. This kind of karma is known as drśt́a vedaniiya karma – good or bad reactions are experienced in the same life as their original actions were performed.
If a liar, a fraud, a bribe-taker, or a corrupt politician happen to reap the consequences of their bad actions in this life, whether they admit it or not, they will realize in their minds that they are being punished for their falsehood, fraudulence and political hypocrisy. These reactions are drśt́a vedaniiya karma. Likewise, people can also enjoy the fruits of their actions in this life. Generally we reap the fruits of actions we performed in the past life. To reap the consequences of actions of the present life is not quite natural, though it is also not unnatural.
Generally one does not reap the consequences of the actions performed in this life itself. If the accumulated saḿskáras of this life are almost similar to the bundle of saḿskáras of past life, that is, if the actional vibrations of both lives are the same, then the reactions of both lives occur concurrently. But if the vibrations of the accumulated saḿskáras of this life are totally different from those of the past life, the two lives’ reactions will not occur concurrently. In the latter case, one will reap the consequences of the actions of the previous life. The actions performed in this life will form a new bundle of saḿskáras. When this bundle is mixed with the bundle created in the previous life, an altogether new bundle of saḿskáras is formed. Hence the bundle of saḿskáras varies from person to person.
The bundle of saḿskáras of a saint is not the same as the bundle of saḿskáras of a sinner. If a saintly person does something bad, there will be a clash between the vibration created by the evil deed and the vibration of the original bundle of saḿskáras. This will cause a severe disturbance in the nerve fibres. The hand of a person accepting a bribe for the first time trembles. A man who commits armed-robbery for the first time becomes so mentally agitated that he cannot resist returning to the scene of the crime, and is thus caught by the police. However, when a confirmed criminal commits such an offense, the vibration of the evil deed is in perfect harmony with the vibration of the bundle of saḿskáras, causing no disturbance at all in his mind or body. For this reason, wicked people continue committing crimes without being caught by the police. If a good person persists in following a bad path, in that case, in the absence of internal conflict, the possibility of a violent tension in his or her nerves gradually decreases.
There is yet another circumstance in which people may reap the consequences of their actions in the same life. If people continue to perform actions without interruption their karma becomes drsta vedaniiya. With the help of Vidyá a link is formed between the self and the mind. When the mind is influenced by the sentient principle, the self (soul or atman) reflects on the mind; when the mind is influenced by the static principle it gets embroiled in the mundane world; and when it is influenced by the mutative principle it reaps the consequences of its actions. When people are goaded by the propensity of mundane enjoyment they become desperate for uninterrupted pleasure, and end up drifting in the flow of the static force. As this unrestrained flow is not resisted by any opposing force, it directly hits the vásaná bhándá (pot of desires) causing a mutative reaction.
Human beings undergo reactions according to the nature of their original actions. If someone harms a sick person, a saint, a person who has taken shelter with someone, or a honest person, he or she will immediately undergo a reaction of the same intensity. This is because sick, infirm and saintly people never obstruct the original actions of wrongdoers. Whatever the original actions of a person may be, good or bad, reactive momenta are bound to be created Until all these potential reactions are expressed, liberation or salvation is impossible.
Yávanna ksiiyata karma shubhaiṋcáshubhameva ca,
Távanna jáyate mokśonrám kalpashataerapi.
Yathá laohamayaeh páshaeh páshaeh svarńamayaerapi
Tathábaddho bhavejjiivo karmábhishcá shubhae shubhaeh.
“Until all the reactions of actions, good or bad, are exhausted a person cannot attain salvation in hundreds of lives. Just as people bound by golden or iron chains feel the pains of bondage, similarly people undergoing good or bad reactions will have to accept them.”
As long as one has a physical body, one cannot be free from action. Thus spiritual aspirants must be ever-vigilant to ensure that new reactive momenta do not enter their vásanábháńda. Through proper Cosmic ideation (Brahmacarya), sádhakas can keep their vásanábhánd́a filled with the ideation of Consciousness. They may have to undergo their past saḿskáras, but because they constantly ideate on the Supreme, no new bundle of saḿskáras will be created. Moreover their old saḿskáras will be exhausted more quickly.
We often notice that after initiation a sincere sádhaka suddenly experiences tremendous pain or pleasure. The initial stage of a spiritual aspirant’s life is quite troublesome. Those who suddenly feel tremendous happiness become so absorbed in this blissful state that they completely forget their ideology, and those who suffer immense torture sometimes leave the path of sádhaká due to their inability to face such difficulties. A true sadhaka must remain unaffected by both pain and pleasure. It should be understood that only through pain and pleasure can one’s sámskáras be destroyed and a new karmáshaya dominated by Consciousness be created.
The way to fill the vásanábhánd́a with Consciousness is to practice astáuṋga yoga (the eight-limbed yoga). This has been divided into three stages. First, one should free one’s mind from the influence of the práńendriya and motor organs and lead it towards Consciousness. As a result of this, the karmáshaya becomes flooded with more and more Consciousness. And through the practice of ásanas and práńayáma, one should increase the degree of control of the mind over práńa. During the first stage of sádhaná the human mind and body become increasingly pure. This is known as anubhava.
After becoming pure in mind and less conscious of the body an awareness dawns in the mind that “I am not this body.” This awareness is called prájiṋa. Sentient prájiṋa is known as prasaḿkhyána. The effort to make prájiṋa sentient is the second stage of sádhaná. In this stage, when the karmáshaya is filled with Consciousness, the possibility of a spiritual aspirant’s rebirth is destroyed for good. Burnt seeds never sprout. However, even though it is burnt, the seed still exists.
Even though karmáshaya is filled with Consciousness, the vásanábhánd́a has to be offered at the feet of Parama Puruśa. Complete surrender is indispensable. The only way to merge the vásanábhánd́a into Consciousness is to ideate on Parama Puruśa and forget everything else. To think of plurality is to stumble towards crudity, whereas to ideate on the Supreme One is to march towards Consciousness. This ideation on the Supreme Entity is called puruśakhyáti (ensconcement in the Supreme Cognitive Faculty). This results in one’s individual identity, one’s vásanábháńd́a, merging in Parama Puruśa. One will become Him. All one’s actions and reactions will merge in Parama Puruśa. Parama Puruśa is the Supreme Shelter. Támáhu Paramá gatih.
-Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (aka Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii)
Shrávańii Púrńimá 1959 DMC, Bhagalpur
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Subháśita Saḿgraha Part 8 [unpublished in English]