To Act or Not to Act: That Is the Question

One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction is intelligent among men. He is in the transcendental position although engaged in all sorts of activities.⁓Bhagavad Gita

Many devotees ask about this principle although Srila Prabhupada explains it in detail. When you have action, they ask, how can you see it as inactivity? And how to see inactivity as action?

We can apply the principle to Arjuna’s situation. In the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna asks Krishna to drive the chariot between the two armies:

There, Arjuna could see, within the midst of the armies of both parties, his fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, friends, and also his fathers-in-law and well-wishers.

Sin Will Overcome Us

But Arjuna does not want to wage war upon these people.

Sin will overcome us if we slay such aggressors. Therefore it is not proper for us to kill the sons of Dhrtarastra and our friends.

Better to live by begging, Arjuna continues, implying that he would rather become a monk and live a life of sinless inactivity than fight this war and accumulate sinful reactions. But Krishna does not agree.

We can begin to understand by looking at the Sanskrit word karma, often thought to mean the reaction to an action. If I am sick, someone may tell me it is my karma, the reaction to an act I performed in the past, maybe even in another life.

But karma means the action itself. Karma yoga, for example means working in Krishna Consciousness. Action and reaction cannot  be separated, so Arjuna is thinking of a life of inaction to avoid the pain of sinful reaction.

Why Is Inaction  the Same as Action?

But Krishna points out that as a prince and a warrior Arjuna has a religious duty to fight for a just cause. If he adopts the life of a monk, he will have to suffer a sinful reaction for neglecting his duty, so his inaction will in reality be a form of action.

On the other hand, action performed in accord with the religious principles of the Vedas, as service to Krishna, is above the laws of karma and produces no reaction, so if Arjuna fights  not because he wants the kingdom but because Krishna wants him to defeat this enemy, there will be no sinful reaction. Arjuna’s action, then, becomes the sinless inaction  he would not attain by living as a monk.

Using Religion as an Excuse

Because Arjuna has been using religious principles as an excuse to avoid the fighting, Krishna concludes his teachings with the following words:

Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.

A Brighter Future

Krishna’s advice to Arjuna is also meant for us. The calamities that we see everywhere on earth today—wars, natural disasters, famine, epidemics—are sinful reactions. If mankind follows the example of Arjuna and acts according to Krishna’s teachings, the burden of sinful reactions will gradually diminish, paving the way for a brighter future on this planet.

Eternally touching my head to the lotus feet of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada,

⁓Umapati Swami August 9, 2018

Srila Prabhupada

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the teacher who brought Krishna Consciousness from India to the West and then to the rest of the world. He is the founder of  the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement as well as the author and compiler of many works of Vedic knowledge. He left this world in 1977.

Umapati Swami

One of the first American devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement, he became Srila Prabhupada’s disciple in 1966. Since then, he has preached Krishna Consciousness in many countries and is the author of “My Days with Prabhupada,” available from Amazon. Now 84 years old, he has started this blog to share what he has learned.

© 2018 Umapati Swami

Scriptural passages © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International

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