Seeking the Key To Desireless Action

Spiritual aspirants throughout history have grappled with the issue of what kind of work or action is compatible or suitable for their spiritual quest. Some have chosen an ascetic path, and determined that action should be minimized to the bare necessary amount to maintain the body and allow the spiritual discipline to proceed. The anchorite in the desert, the yogi in the mountain cave are a couple of examples of this approach toward minimizing the influence of desire into action, and thereby maximizing the focus on the spiritual path they were following. The Sankhya path would fit generally into this approach. The issue with this approach is that it leaves the entire vast work of Nature unsupported.

Others have taken the approach that action in the outer world is acceptable as long as it is focused on the spiritual aspiration through undertaking rituals, maintaining outer forms, undertaking what is traditionally known as sacrifice. The idea here is that such action is not strictly based on the action of desire, and it continues to focus on the spiritual reality. As we have seen with the Vedavada tradition which considered such ritual sacrifices to be “karma yoga”, it is possible to be misled into using these practices for the fulfillment of worldly desires, so it is not a perfect solution either.

Still others have taken the approach that outer action in the world can be done according to certain pre-determined principles or rules, because it is needed for the welfare of the world.

In each of these instances, and in other variants, there is an acknowledgement that bondage to the world is related to the force of desire, and the attempt to find a way to live that does away with the attachment that comes from action done with desire.

It is generally believed that without the action of desire, the functions of life in the world, the development of society and personal attention to action cannot exist.

The Gita sets forth a doctrine of doing “the work to be done” without attachment to the fruits of action, without desire. The question remains how to realistically accomplish this goal.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 11, Works and Sacrifice, pp. 102-103,

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