“The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.17)
“How can God let this happen to me? I’m alive, but why should I be in such pain? Only a sick and twisted person would create a world where something like this were possible. A really compassionate person would save me and others from such a fate. This is a terrible place. These people who believe in God are only kidding themselves. There’s no way a Supreme Lord would sanction such terrible conditions.”
These laments are understandable given the tragedies we encounter on a daily basis, either to ourselves or to others. Yet if we break down the situation a little further, it is seen that the circumstances are merely the result of actions. Actions have reactions; that is the basic law. Without the reaction, there is no purpose to the action. The only way to prevent the reaction is to avoid the action. So when the above laments are voiced, the underlying message is: “Please God, let me stop all action. Take away my ability to act. Do this for others as well.”
We may not realize that that is what we are saying, but it is indeed true. Think of the political situation after a major downturn in the economy. The politician in power promises to never allow something like this to happen again. But what exactly happened? Bankers and financiers didn’t all of a sudden become greedy. They have been around since the beginning of time, so it is not like in a specific isolated period they suddenly discovered greed and then engaged in feverish economic activity to turn a profit.
Indeed, their economic activity in modern times is already highly regulated. All such risky behavior, which was blamed for the ensuing downturn in the economy, was monitored by governing authorities, who not only sanctioned such behavior, but encouraged it as well. And then when the crash occurs, when the reactions to the unwise behavior bear fruit, there is the call to prevent such a situation from reoccurring. And what is the solution? Obviously, it is to put tighter controls on the actions. “Government will regulate more. They will keep a watchful eye on the bankers, financiers and speculators.”
This is all well and good, but there is a reaction to this action as well. If there are tighter controls, there is less activity. And with less activity, there are less economic transactions. Think of it like telling a land owner to grow food but then declaring seventy-five percent of their land off-limits to farming. And by the way, the farmer is expected to produce more crops than they did previously. Of course, the two edicts are incongruous. In the Vedas, it is revealed that the key to economic success is to allow activity to occur. The analogy is made to the cow, who when allowed to roam free will produce much more milk than when it is locked down and tied up.
Economics is only one area where we see bad results occurring from action and then unwanted results from the prevention of action, but the same applies to all areas of life. If you really want to prevent all bad situations from occurring, you have to lock yourself up in a room and do absolutely nothing. Is this what you really want? Is this the pinnacle of an existence? Anyone who tells you that you can avoid all pain in life without taking this course is wrong. There is no other way to avoid heartbreak, disease, financial misfortune, anger through interactions with friends, and other such unwanted conditions.
As the complete end to all activity is not desired in the least, we understand that God is not to blame for our tragedies. Surely He creates the playing field, but the resultant reactions follow actions. The key is to learn the nature of prescribed actions and how one should be aloof to the reactions. If someone gives me a hammer, I have the potential to cause harm. I can throw it at someone, hit someone over the head with it, or even drop it on my foot. But does this mean that the hammer is useless? Should I throw away the hammer since it is so dangerous? Actually, the hammer is meant to be used for punching nails into boards that will be used to build things. The hammer can thus be very useful. When used properly, the negative reactions do not manifest.
In the same way, our potential for action has an ideal target. The target is described in books like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. One can argue that these are works of the Hindu faith and that other faiths have their own books. But there is still only one God, though He is described in varying levels of detail in the many faiths. The Vedas, which are the real origin of Hinduism, are considered a faith by those who don’t know any better, but they actually represent the science of spirituality. In works like the Bhagavad-gita, the nature of action and inaction is explained in scientific terms, where there is both observation and experiment. Fortunately, neither of these are required since the teacher is the origin of everything. He knows the laws of spirit and matter, so we don’t need to test His hypotheses. Nevertheless, since the truths presented represent a science, we can see for ourselves whether they are valid.
“One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.18)
With respect to action, the Vedas say that a wise man sees action in inaction and inaction in action. This seems like a clever play on words, but it makes sense if you think about it. You can realize this truth without referencing spirituality. For instance, if you’re allowing paint to dry on the walls in a room, you are essentially not acting. But actually, there is action in that inaction, for you are working towards a finished room. Then there is the instance where you are going through the motions, acting with your body but not really paying attention. Perhaps you are like this with your household chores. You are doing the laundry, which is action, but you are thinking about something else. You are thus not affected by the work you are doing; your consciousness is attuned differently. Thus there is a kind of inaction with your action.
The same concepts apply on a larger scale when you work towards transcendental knowledge. That is the goal to your potential for action. If you are sitting in a room and not doing anything, it is considered inaction. But if the mind is actually thinking about spirit and matter and how the essential characteristic of spirit is to serve God, you are actually acting. By the same token, if you are working at the jobsite to earn a living, but the whole while you’re reciting the holy names in your mind, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” you are actually not acting. In that action there is inaction.
Many other such profound truths are found in the Bhagavad-gita, which is the guidebook for human behavior. Its truths apply to all people, regardless of the faith passed on by the family, the country of origin, or the language spoken. God is truly universal; He transcends all designations created through ignorance of the spiritual science. More than anything, our potential for action is meant to be used for connecting with Him; this is the result of attaining transcendental knowledge. In the absence of that connection to Him, which is known as yoga, there are so many calamities faced. The nature of the world we live in is such that forgetfulness of God is very easy, and so harmful things like disease, old age and death are guaranteed to happen. One who acts properly, though, gets closer to Krishna, the Supreme Lord. Such a reaction is welcome, making one appreciative that they are allowed to act, free to show their love to the one person who truly deserves it.
“How a loving God can there be,
When so many calamities I see?
Earthquakes, hurricanes, economic disaster,
Even after calm they come again after.”
In such lament for stoppage you ask,
To end all activity thus becomes the task.
Is this really what you want, no more motion?
From Gita learn real purpose of action: devotion.