Why Should Works Continue After Liberation?

We have acquired the habit of thought, through thousands of years of human history, that places “liberation” at the end of a long and arduous effort and as the “goal” of our striving. Upon achieving this form of “liberation” we expect that we will no longer act, no longer have any impulsions whatsoever and will have our awareness dissolved into the vast, immobile, universal consciousness of the ultimate Reality. Even if we remain alive, we expect that action will be minimized to the absolute rock bottom requirements of existence with no need or wish to do anything further.

The question arises, then, as to why and how action or “works” should still occur after the liberation is achieved? Many religious or spiritual traditions answer this question by simply saying that there is nothing more to be done and therefore, achieving this freedom, we should simply depart from this life. Others, such as the Mahayana Buddhist tradition incorporate the sense of Oneness, beyond the limited individual human personality and invoke thereby the Bodhisattva vow, the idea that the realised being will not cross over into the ultimate liberation until every other sentient being in the universe has done so.

The Gita takes up the question, as Sri Aurobindo explains, with regard to works after liberation: “Works may even then continue because Nature continues and her activities; but there is no longer any further object in these works. The sole reason for our continuing to act after liberation is purely negative; it is the compulsion of Nature on our finite parts of mind and body. But if that be all, then, first, works may well be whittled down and reduced to a minimum, may be confined to what Nature’s compulsion absolutely will have from our bodies; and secondly, even if there is no reduction to a minimum,–since action does not matter and inaction also is no object,–then the nature of the works also does not matter. Arjuna, once having attained knowledge, may continue to fight out the battle of Kurukshetra, following his old Kshatriya nature, or he may leave it and live the life of the Sannyasin, following his new quietistic impulse. Which of these he does, becomes quite indifferent; or rather the second is the better way, since it will discourage more quickly the impulses of Nature which still have a hold on his mind owing to past created tendency and, when his body has fallen from him, he will securely depart into the Infinite and Impersonal with no necessity of returning again to the trouble and madness of life in this transient and sorrowful world….”

Of course, this is the traditional view of things, and not the eventual solution to be provided by the Bhagavad Gita as it moves through its analysis of the human condition and the aim of our lives.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 13, The Lord of the Sacrifice, pp. 123-124

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Liberation Comes About From Synthesis of Yoga of Knowledge and Works

The traditional path of knowledge as a means of liberation has tended to lead away from the life of the world to a renunciation of worldly action and a dissolution into the infinite consciousness of the supreme Brahman. The traditional path of works has focused on dedicated actions to achieve specific goals, but again, has shied away from taking on the myriad actions and impulsions of the life of the world.

The Gita’s unique synthesis calls on us to act from knowledge: the knowledge of the illusory nature of the individual separated being acting under impulsions of desire to aggrandise the ego; to recognize the reality of the supreme,infinite and impersonal Consciousness that maintains all within it and is not disturbed by the actions of Nature.

The Gita at the same time enjoins us to carry out works, but not for the achievement of the fruits of action, or for personal gain or ego, but as “the work to be done” and with the understanding that this work is a movement of universal Nature, Prakriti, carrying out the intention and motive purposes of the Supreme Being who has created and cast all this energy into motion.

Sri Aurobindo discusses some of the issues involved in carrying out this yoga: “The real renunciation–for renunciation, sannyasa, there must be–is not the fleeing from works, but the slaying of ego and desire. The way is to abandon attachment to the fruit of works even while doing them, and the way is to recognise Nature as the agent and leave her to do her works and to live in the soul as the witness and sustainer, watching and sustaining her, but not attached either to her actions or their fruits.”

This results in the quieting, eventually the dissolution of the knot of the ego. “We have achieved by the slaying of ego impersonality in our being and consciousness; we have achieved by the renunciation of desire impersonality in the works of our nature. We are free not only in inaction, but in action; our liberty does not depend on a physical and temperamental immobility and vacancy, nor do we fall from freedom directly we act. Even in a full current of natural action the impersonal soul in us remains calm, still and free.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 13, The Lord of the Sacrifice, pp. 122-123