How to Act (Yoga Vasishtha)

An excerpt from Yoga Vasishtha (Vihari Lala Mitra translation, Book VII, Chapter 1): On unintentional acts and actions

This is a direct copy of the text which is on the topic:

“The manner how the liberated should conduct themselves in life, with renunciation of their egoism and selfish desires.”


In this beautiful excerpt Sage Vasishtha explains to Sri Rama how the wise view action and what is meant by acting in a ‘detached’ way. The understanding of how the yogi is one who allows life to flow in its natural course according to the momentum already in place, is well explained here.


Check out the excerpt reading in the video below:

Rama rejoined:—

The renunciation of the notion of one’s personality or egoism in his own person, being attended by its attendant evil of inertness and inactivity (lit. want of acts), it naturally brings on a premature decay and decline, and the eventual falling off of the body in a short time: how then is it possible sir, for an indifferent person of this kind, to practice his actions and discharge the active duties of life (as you preached in your last lecture)?.

Vasishtha replied:—

It is possible Rama, for the living person to resign his false ideas and not for one that is dead and gone (because the life of a man is independent of his notions; while the notions are dependant on his life). Hear me now to expound this truth, and it will greatly please your ears: (lit. it will be an ornament to your ears).

The idea of one’s egoism (or his personality in own person), is said to be an idealism by idealists; but it is the conception of the signification of the word air or vacuity (which is the essence of the Deity), that is represented as the repudiation of that erroneous notion.

The idealists represent the sense of all substances, as a creation of the imagination, while it is the idea of a pure vacuum, which they say to be the resignation of this erroneous conception. (The vacuistic Vasishtha treats here in length of the nullity of all substances, and the eternity of all pervading vacuum, and establishes the doctrine of the nothingness of the world and its God).

The idea of any thing in the world as something in reality, is said to be mere imaginary by the best and wisest of men; but the belief of all things as an empty nothing, displaces the error of thought from the mind. Since all things are reduced to and return to nothing, it is this alone which is the ever lasting something. (Ullum est nullum, et nullum est ullum).

Know thy remembrance of anything, is thy imagination of it only, and its forgetfulness alone is good for thee; therefore try to blot out all thy former impressions from thy mind, as if they were never impressed on it.

Efface from thy mind the memory of all thou hast felt or unfelt (i.e. fancied), and remain silent and secluded like a block after thy forgetfulness of all things whatsoever.

Continue in the practice of thy continuous actions, with an utter oblivion of the past (no need of the assistance of thy memory of the past, in the discharge of thy present duties); because thy habit of activity is enough to conduct thee through all the actions of thy life, as it is the habit of a half-sleeping baby to move its limbs (without its consciousness of the movements). (Such is the force of habit, says the maxim Abhyastopapatti—habit is second nature).

It requires no design or desire on the part of an actor to act his part, whereto he is led by the tenor of his prior propensities (of past lives); as a potter’s wheel is propelled by the pristine momentum, without requiring the application of continued force for its whirling motion. So O sinless Rama! mind our actions to be under the direction of our previous impressions, and not under the exertion of our present efforts.

Hence inappetency has become the congenial tendency of your mind, without its inclination to the gratification of its appetites. The leanings of men to particular pursuits, are directed by the current of their previous propensities. The predisposition of the mind, is said to be the cause of the formation of the character and fortune of a man in his present state, (which is otherwise said to be the result of his predestination) which runs as a stream in wonted course, and carries all men as straws floating along with its tide.

I am proclaiming it with a loud voice and lifted arms, and yet no body will hearken unto me when I say that, want of desire is our supreme bliss and summum bonum, and yet why is it that none would perceive it as such?

O the wondrous power of illusion! that it makes men to slight their reason, and throw away the richest jewel of their mind, from the chest of their breast wherein it is deposited.

The best way to inappetence, is the ignoring and abnegation of the phenomenals which I want you to do; and know that your disavowal of all is of the greatest boon to you, as you will be best able to perceive in yourself.

Sitting silent with calm content, will lead you to that blissful state, before which your possession of an empire will seem insignificant, and rather serving to increase your desire for more. (The adage says:—No one has got over the ocean of his ambition, neither an Alexander nor a Caesar).

As the feet of a traveller are in continued motion, until he reaches to his destination; so are the body and mind of the avaricious in continual agitation, unless his inappetence would give him respite from his incessant action.

Forget and forsake your expectation of fruition of the result of your actions, and allow yourself to be carried onward by the current of your fortune, and without taking anything to thy mind; as a sleeping man is insensibly carried on by his dreams.

Stir yourself to action as it occurs to you, and without any purpose or desire of yours in it, and without your feeling any pain or pleasure therein; let the current of the business conduct you onward, as the current of a stream carries down a straw in its course.

Take to thy heart no pleasure or pain, in the discharge of the work in which thou art employed; but remain insensible of both like a wooden machine which works for others. (Because, says the commentary, it is the dull head of people only, that are elated or dejected in the good or bad turns of the affairs of life).

Remain insensible of pleasure or pain, in thy body and mind and all the organs of senses; like the sapless trees and plants in winter, when they bear their bare trunks without the sensitiveness of their parts.

Let the sun of thy good understanding, suck up the sensibility of thy six external senses, as the solar rays dry up the moisture of winter plants; and continue to work with the members of thy body, as an engine is set to work. (Work as a brute with thy bodily powers or as a machine with its mechanical forces; but keep thy inner mind aloof from thy outer drudgery).

Restrain thy intellectual pleasures from their inclination to sensual gratifications, and retain thy spiritual joy in thyself, for the support of thy life; as the ground retains the roots of trees in it very carefully in winter for their growth in the season of spring.

It is the same whether you continually gratify or not the cravings of your senses, they will continue insatiate notwithstanding all your supplies, and the vanities of the world will profit you nothing.

If you move about continually like a running stream, or as the continuous shaking of the water in an aerostatic or hydraulic engine, and be free from every desire and craving of your mind, you are then said to advance towards your endless felicity (so the adage is:—All desire is painful, and its want is perfect freedom).

Know this as a transcendent truth, and capable of preventing all your future transmigrations in this world, that you become accustomed to the free agency of all your actions, without being dragged to them by your desires.

Pursue your business as it occurs to you, without any desire or purpose of your own towards its object; but continue to turn about your calling, as the potter’s wheel revolves round its fulcrum.

Neither have in view the object of your action, nor the reward of your action; but know it to be equally alike whether you refrain from action, or do it without your desire of fruition.

But what is the use of much verbosity, when it can be expressed in short and in a few words, that the desire of fruition is the bondage of your soul, and your relinquishment of it is fraught with your perfect freedom.

There is no business whatever for us in this world, that must be done or abandoned by us at any time or place; every thing is good that comes from the good God, therefore sit you quiet with your cold indifference as before the occurrence of any event.

Think thy works as no works, and take thy abstinence from action for thy greatest work, but remain as quiet in your mind in both your action and inaction, as the Divine Intellect is in ecstasies amidst the thick of its action.

Know the unconsciousness of all things to be the true trance-yoga, and requiring the entire suppression of the mental operations. Remain wholly intent on the Supreme spirit, until thou art one and the same with it.

Being identified with that tranquil and subtile spirit, and divested of the sense of dualism or existence of anything else; nobody can sorrow for ought, when he is himself absorbed in his thought, in the endless and pure essence of God.

Let no desire rise in thy indifferent mind, like a tender germ sprouting in the sterile desert soil; nor allow a wish to grow in thee, like a slender blade shooting in the bosom of a barren rock.

The unconscious and insensible saint, derives no good or evil by his doing or undoing of any deed or duty in his living state, nor in his next life. (Duties are not binding on the holy and devout sages and saints).

There is no sense of duty nor that of its dereliction neither, in the minds of the saintly Yogis, who always view the equality of all things and acts; and never consider their deeds as their own doings, nor think themselves as the agents of their own actions.

The consciousness of egoism and the sense of meiety of selfishness, will never release a man from the miseries of life; it is his unconsciousness of these, that can only save him from all sorrow, wherefore it lies in the option of every body, to choose for him either of these as he may best like.

There is no other ego or meiety excepting that of the one self-existent and omniform Deity; and besides the essence of this transcendent being, it is hard to account anything of the multifarious things that appear to be otherwise than Himself.

The visible world that appears so vividly to our sight, is no more than the manifestation of the One Divine Essence in many, like the transformation of gold in the multiform shapes of jewels; but seeing the continual decay and disappearance of the phenomenals, we ignore their separate existence. We confess the sole existence of the One that lasts after all and for ever.

See also:
Contemplation on Action (Yoga Vasishtha)
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