The right basis for action – enhance or dissolve?

As someone who has had her fair share of suffering from an attachment to achievement and habitual goal-setting, the spiritual perspective on ‘action’ is something that has always intrigued me.

Ours is an ‘action oriented’ society. We understand ‘doing’ and feel comfortable around people who are always planning big things and we sort of feel uncomfortable around laid-back, contented types.

In this context, it seems important to understand how ‘action’ fits into life from the standpoint of spirituality/consciousness. I believe there are two tests to consider here:

  1. is your action compulsive or conscious?
  2. is your intention to enhance yourself or dissolve yourself?

Compulsive or conscious?

Spiritual teachings say that ‘right action’ is one which is conscious as opposed to compulsive. What does this mean?

Compulsive action would be action that may not necessarily be ‘right’ for you or for the task at hand but you do it anyway, compelled by tendencies that you feel you can’t or don’t want to control. e.g. smoking, anger, etc.

Conscious action would be one where you do the thing that you know would be best for you and for the objective you wish to achieve even if you don’t like it. e.g. studying all night for an exam the next day.

The above distinction between conscious and compulsive action is easier to understand – we all know well that to achieve certain ends, we need to exercise discipline to do the things that will work for us. The second distinction below is trickier.

Enhance or dissolve?

The spiritual master Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev asks to consider whether you are doing a certain action because you want to enhance yourself or dissolve yourself. What does this mean? Let’s have a go at understanding.

Enhance yourself: you want to be successful, rich, famous because of the thing you choose to do

Dissolve yourself: you don’t care about the outcome but still put in your best effort because you’re doing it for a higher cause than your own personal aggrandisement.

Bhagavad-Gita

It isn’t easy to use work as a means to dissolve.  The desire for success in any endeavour is hard to suppress. Yet, we are reminded again and again by the wise, not to mention, the Bhagavad Gita, to not look for the fruits of action, yet work towards the highest possible ideals.

He who seeth inaction in action and action in inaction, he is wise among men, he is harmonious, even while performing all action.

– Bhagavad Gita (Ch.. III- 16,17)

Karma yoga is that path of yoga where selfless action is used as a means to reach the Ultimate. Even that path though has to be carefully trodden lest our good actions lead us into arrogance and become our bondage. What is required is dis-identifying with the petty mind and an reaching an understanding of oneself as universal consciousness.

I remember a plaque that my grandmother used to keep on her table, engraved with the words of Swami Vivekananda that I always found inspirational. They are quite fitting to quote here and may help in undertanding this concept:

This world is not for cowards. Do not try to fly. Look not for success or failure. Join yourself to the perfectly unselfish will and work on. Know that the mind which is born to succeed joins itself to a determined will and perseveres. You have the right tvivekanandao work, but do not become so degenerate as to look for results. Work incessantly, but see something behind the work. Even good deeds can find a man in great bondage. Therefore be not bound by good deeds or by desire for name and fame. Those who know this secret pass beyond this round of birth and death and become immortal.

– Swami Vivekananda

 

How do you think about success and failure? Share your thoughts below.

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Shruti Bakshi
Shruti Bakshi is the Founder of the LivingWise Project. She has worked for several years in banking and financial services in London, Paris and Mumbai. Shruti writes about life at the intersection of spirituality and modern society. Her debut novel 'From Dior to Dharma' was released in May 2017. International link: From Dior to Dharma
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10 Replies to “The right basis for action – enhance or dissolve?”

  1. Ulingana

    Love the words of Vivekananda. ‘Even good deeds can find a man in great bondage’ that would be my ‘trap’ from the path I’ve chosen…thinking I do something fine, something useful, but I know that to recognise the common bond of humanity is actual to increase the pleasure in one’s life rather than be a cause for self-aggrandisement. Recognition that nothing I do is ultimately important; what freedom. Some spiritual people have said to ignore this world of illusion. I personally embrace it as something of great beauty. To be a transient being in a beautiful transient world, with no duty except to be true to one’s Self; what a joy to be on such a path.
    Well you asked for comments Shruti 🙂 nice post thanks so much (bought your book btw so will be waiting for me on my return… cool).

    • Shruti Bakshi

      Thanks for sharing your views Tony – always a pleasure to read! Vivekananda has written a lot on this topic – truly inspirational.
      Your understanding of this is more profound than mine I think. I still struggle with not trying to chase success, credit, etc. Perhaps the conditioning from a young age to achieve :p
      I’m so glad you bought the book, thank you! Do let me know what you think of it – good or bad. Take care.

  2. Ulingana

    Dear Shruti my understanding is Not more profound, so sorry to contradict you but I feel strongly about this. I’m a very intellectual being, sure, but more than that I’m a hedonist!!! I’m pleasure driven haha… To taste even a tiny smidgin of surrender, which I do sometimes, is the greatest pleasure I have ever had… so I want more… in other words I’m very instinct driven, rather than being some wise dude!! I still want people to tell me that my music is the best thing they’ve ever heard!! You have the greater ability to present this stuff in a coherent way than I. Kindest of wishes, Tony 🙂

  3. Myles Butler

    I really like this distinction. I try to always keep the Bhagavad Gita’s instructions to avoid working for the fruit of labor at the top of my mind, but it can be easy to forget in the moment. Enhance vs. dissolve seems like a straight-forward way of keeping that wisdom in mind.

  4. thewishingwell

    I found this post so inspiring. I often struggle to make decisions (like everyone) and I hadn’t thought about it this way before. I have been taught time and time again that success isn’t in my hands, and if that’s the only reason I’m doing something, it isn’t a good reason. Thanks for this post!

    • Shruti Bakshi

      Thanks for the comment Jenna! I’m really glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 This is a topic I think about quite a bit. It’s hard to dissociate from results because we have been conditioned in just the opposite way by society. But I do find it useful to remind myself of the ideas in this post from time to time. Glad if others do too!

  5. Atmaprajnananda

    Nice attempt Shruti to discuss Bhagavadgitā.

    Karmayoga in BhagavadGitā a is a complex topic as acknowledged by Krṣna in 4.16.

    Still earlier in the Gitā, He said – we have a choice wrt Karma, not its result (2.47).

    He then explains Karmayoga in 3.3., 3.4., 3.8 advising not to be attached (asaktah) to the results of action (Karmaphala). And how the jnānis like Janaka continue to perform karma for the welfare of the humanity (loka-sangraha 3.20). He also speaks of Sarvakarma-sannyāsya (3.30, 12.6) and renunciating the results of all action on Īśvara (sarvakarma-phala-tyāga -12.11, 12.12)

    Sva-dharma (3.35, 18. 9, 18.46) in Gitā is always to be understood as Sva-karma (duty) based on varnāśrama (in modern times script). Krṣna also clarifies – No Karma is free from blemish. Hence stick to your Sva-dharma (18.47, 18.48)

    • Shruti Bakshi

      Thank you Atmaprajnananda ji for the valuable contribution on this topic. Wonderful to have more knowledge on this from the Bhagavad Gita. I think the topic of right action is one which many people are unclear about – especially the concept of Sva-dharma has been forgotten mostly. Good to know more about it 🙂

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