I learnt about the precise difference between these words at Karmayoga workshop session How is Karma Yoga Acting Without Acting? held by Sri Aurobindo Society for Indian Culture (SAFIC). The speaker Anuradha Choudary from IIT – Kharagpur, delineated these terms without any ambiguity. Her approach of deconstructing the process of acting and then reconstructing it left me with an awe.
When we say acting, so many questions arise as in who needs to act, what needs to be acted, with whom and so on.
To whom are these questions arising? These questions probably arise only to human beings. But where are these questions arising? In the human mind. There can be two reasons for it due to the two unique aspects of human beings:
- Development of mental faculty – Because of this faculty, we are able to question our self and introspect.
- Free will – Freedom to choose what action to do, freedom to decide, freedom to allow things to happen to us.
The Process Of Karma
- Every action we do leaves an impression – For example, if we go to an ice-cream shop and try out for the first time an unknown flavor, it leaves an impression – either we like or dislike the ice-cream. This is called Samskara (संस्कार) or impression.
- Next time when we visit the shop, it is quite likely that we may end-up ordering the same flavor, why? Because we liked it earlier. Here we have developed the tendency to buy the same ice-cream we always liked. This is called Vasana (वासना) or tendency.
- If we repeat this again and again and order the same ice-cream without thinking (in auto-pilot mode), then it has become a habit and when we act out of our tendencies, it is called Karma (कर्म) or action.
Now, this becomes a cycle, here we have created a karmic cycle. Even the tiniest of our actions will also create the karmic cycle.
Breaking the karmic Cycle
The karmic cycle continues to occur until we start questioning and being aware of why I am choosing what I am choosing. The cycle can be broken by exercising our free will – the ability to choose consciously each and every time without dipping into tendencies or habits. This is called Akarma (अकर्म).
Akarma is any action based out of rational choice and not the tendencies. The question to ask here is – Why am I choosing what am I choosing? Now, the free will starts to play out. You don’t create extra karmic circuits here. It’s like driving on a highway and not circuitous by-lanes.
Here an individual consciously chooses to enter the karmic cycle, fully knowing the good or the bad consequences of the action. If it is a wrong action, then we are ready to face the consequences of action. It’s like consciously choosing to enter in the by-lanes and avoiding highway.
But Why Do We Act The Way We Act?
Our actions depends on the inputs that we get through the senses, and how we interpret the inputs gives rise to the actions we perform. This interpretation is based on the lens we choose (unconsciously or consciously) to see the world. The five lenses or Panchklesha (पञ्च क्लेश) we normally use are –
अविद्यास्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशाः पञ्च क्लेशाः॥३॥
Avidyāsmitārāgadveṣābhiniveśāḥ pañca kleśāḥ
The third verse of the second chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
- Avidya (अविद्या) – Ignorance
- Asmita (अस्मिता) – The sense of “I”
- Raga (राग) – Likes
- Dvesha (द्वेष) – Dislikes
- Abhinivesh (अभिनिवेश) – Fear of dissolution
- Avidya (अविद्या) – Due to ignorance we don’t possess the ability to see the problems or pains of others. Ignorance distorts the reality when we don’t stop to check whether what we see is the truth or is there any other facet of it. One of the ways to overcome avidya is to put ourselves into other person’s shoe/role, see the problem from their perspective. At times we don’t even see our own problems or pains, for example – we harm ourselves when we get angry.
- Asmita (अस्मिता) – A sense of ‘I am the doer’ comes with this. Introspecting on this a little deeper takes us to the question who am I, really? This raises further questions…Am I the body? Am I the mind? Am I the body? Or do I have the body? Am I the mind or do I have the mind? Am I the emotions or do I have the emotions? when we act, we act from the basis of our projected identity of what I think I am and not from what “I am” really is.
- Raga (राग) and Dvesha (द्वेष) – Often out of sense of doer-ship, we attribute all the happenings to self and decide what to do based on our likes and dislikes.
- Abhinivesh (अभिनिवेश) – Because of our limited identification with the body, we fear our nonexistence. Fear of survival, leads to lot of pain and suffering we experience.
How To Act Without Acting?
Before acting we will need to be vigilant and prevent unconscious use any of the above lenses, else our action will get coloured. If we become off-guard, then we are setting up ourselves for the karmic cycle. This cause-effect cascade right from the root-cause is beautifully explained in the Srimad BhagvadGita in Chapter 2, verses 62 and 63 –
|ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंसः सङ्गस्तेषूपजायते। |
सङ्गात् संजायते कामः कामात्क्रोधोऽभिजायते।।2.62।।
|क्रोधाद्भवति संमोहः संमोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः।|
स्मृतिभ्रंशाद् बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति।।2.63।।
|dhyayato visayan pumsah sangasteshupajayate |
sangatsanjayate kamah kamat krodhobhijayate।।2.62।।
|krodhadbhavatisammohah smmohat smrtivibhramah |
smrtibhramsad-buddhinaso buddhinasat pranasyati ।।2.63।।
|A person who dwells upon objects, an attachment is born with reference to them|
From attachment is born desire and from desire, anger is born.
|From anger comes delusion and from delusion comes the loss of memory. |
Because of loss of memory, the mind becomes incapacitated and when the mind is incapacitated, the person is destroyed.
Hence, cleaning of the lenses is essential to get clarity of the action.
Execution Time Of This Process Cycle
This leap into executing an action happens so quickly (in less than seconds) that we don’t even register the kleshas that we use before acting. Effectively we need to buy time until we become adept at injecting the registration (step-back and inject) at run-time in the process to work. Various approaches can be tried:
- Slowing down before acting is one possible solution, but may not be effective all the time.
- Another approach that has worked for me is to defer the action temporarily and avoid committing to act.
If you have other approaches, please put them in the comment box below and I’ll happily add and try the technique myself.
Glossary Of Definitions
- संस्कार (Samskara) = Initial Impressions.
- वासना (Vasana) = Tendency or Patterned Reactions, it is a regular reactionary pattern based on likes and dislikes (preferences).
- कर्म (Karma) = Action based out of the above tendencies. Hence we have karmic cycle or karmic circuit.
- अकर्म (Akarma) = Action based out of choice and not the tendencies.
- विकर्म (Vikarma) = Consciously entering the karmic cycle and ready to face the consequences of action.