Action Is Not a Bondage

Physical renunciation of action represents a mistaken notion of the nature of action and the cause of bondage by action. As previously noted, it is not possible to abandon action as long as we are in the human body. Some amount of physical action is going to take place. Sri Aurobindo points out, however, an even greater issue in terms of the mistaken attempt to renounce action: “For it is not our physical movements and activities alone which are meant by works, by karma; our mental existence also is a great complex action, it is even the greater and more important part of the works of the unresting energy,–subjective cause and determinant of the physical. We have gained nothing if we repress the effect but retain the activity of the subjective cause. The objects of sense are only an occasion for our bondage, the mind’s insistence on them is the means, the instrumental cause. A man may control his organs of action and refuse to give them their natural play, but he has gained nothing if his mind continues to remember and dwell upon the objects of sense.”

“The body’s actions, even the mind’s actions are nothing in themselves, neither a bondage, nor the first cause of bondage. What is vital is the mighty energy of Nature which will have her way and her play in her great field of mind and life and body; what is dangerous in her, is the power of her three Gunas, modes or qualities to confuse and bewilder the intelligence and so obscure the soul.”

From this viewpoint, true liberation consists not in abstaining from action, whether physical or mental, but in separating oneself from entanglement that bewilders the senses and the intelligence, essentially rising above the action of the three Gunas, observing and supporting their action, but not being attached either to the action or its fruits. Each of us has to act while we are in the world–that is the role of Nature of which we are a part, not a separate existence.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 11, Works and Sacrifice, pp. 100-101,