The Paradox of Liberated Works

Sri Aurobindo raises the big unresolved question that the Gita must still answer, and describes the difficulties that still remain until this question can be fully and satisfactorily addressed by the Gita. The Gita consistently teaches the need to continue to do works, but has not yet given us a key as to how to have that action be anything other than the working of the lower Nature under bondage to the action of the Gunas. The Gita makes it clear that through a shifting of the consciousness, the seeker can become free from the bondage to the Gunas. But unless the work itself can be raised up, we simply have a dichotomy between a free inner awareness and a bound outer action. As Sri Aurobindo points out, if this is as far as it goes, the case for continuing works after liberation has not been made. In that event, why undertake the works at all? Why not follow the prescription of the ascetic paths, minimize the outer works and pursue the liberation of the consciousness, and abandon the body, life and all the works as a painful interlude, an illusion?

“For at present all our activities are determined in their trend and shape by the nature, and this Nature here is the nature of the three Gunas, and in all natural being and in all natural activities there is the triple Guna, Tamas with its ignorance and inertia, Rajas with its kinesis and action, its passion and grief and perversin, Sattwa with its light and happiness, and the bondage of these things. And granted that the soul becomes superior in the self to the three Gunas, how does it escape in its instrumental nature from their working and result and bondage? For even the man of knowledge, says the Gita, must act according to his nature. To feel and bear the reactions of the Gunas in the outer manifestation, but to be free from them and superior in the observing conscious self behind is not sufficient; for it leaves still a dualism of freedom and subjection, a contradiction between what we are within and what we are without, between or self and our power, what we know ourselves to be and what we will and do.”

Despite this apparent irreconcilable contradiction, the Gita still insists that works can, and indeed are free when carried out by the liberated soul. “This can only be, if the nature also in its dynamics and workings becomes divine, a power imperturbable, intangible, inviolate, pure and untroubled by the reactions of the inferior Prakriti.”

This is the remaining issue to be resolved by the Gita.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 16, The Fullness of Spiritual Action, pp. 446-447