We rarely give much thought to the forces that shape action, that is, works, in the world. Many people believe that they simply think of something and then they “do” it, and that is that. This sets up the illusion of the independent doer who is not conditioned by or controlled by any externalities. A truer understanding of action can aid the seeker in finding the right relationship to works and the manifested universe within which they take place.
Philosophers, of course, have examined the issue much more deeply and actually developed frameworks for the various “types” of causes that bring about a specific work or action. Sankhya philosophy has itself set forth its understanding of works, and the Gita takes the opportunity to review these at this point.
First a quick overview as itemized by Sri Aurobindo: “The Gita then speaks of the five causes or indispensable requisites for the accomplishment of works as laid down by the Sankhya. These five are, first, the frame of body, life and ind which are the basis or standing-ground of the soul in Nature, adhisthana, next, the doer, karta, third the various instrumentation of Nature, karana, fourth, the many kinds of effort which make up the force of action, cestah, and last, Fate, daivam, that is to say, the influence of the Power or powers other than the human factors, other than the visible mechanism of Nature, that stand behind these and modify the work and dispose its fruits in the steps of act and consequence. These five elements make up among them all the efficient causes, karana, that determine the shaping and outcome of whatever work man undertakes with mind and speech and body.”
There is much more to be learned by exploring each of these in more depth. Eventually we begin to see the inter-connected web of existence that both conditions and determines our action, and we begin to recognize that forces and powers greater than ourselves influence or even control the action that we undertake. By this exploration we loosen the hold of the egoistic view that we are the “doers” in some kind of ultimate or independent sense.
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 19, The Gunas, Mind and Works, pg. 480