Action Not Based on Personal Desire

From our usual human standpoint, we find the impetus to doing works in the world by the achievement of specific goals for the satisfaction of desire. The normal mental viewpoint, which creates oppositions and dualities, then determines that without the motive force of desire, there is no ground or call for action in the world. This has led to the development of the two extremes–on the one side, the materialist denial (as Sri Aurobindo calls it), which holds that the world is real and that we should simply focus on achieving the fruits of our action without reference to any spiritual significance; and on the other, the refusal of the ascetic (again, Sri Aurobindo’s terminology), which holds the material world as an illusion, and finds its focus in the spiritual quest by suppressing action that is caused by the force of desire.

In Sri Aurobindo’s view, and as enunciated by the Gita, there is an integrating principle which provides reality to both the world and the spirit as expressions of one divine Being. This opens up a third approach which is the one described by the Gita; that is, to carry out action, not as a fulfillment of the individual desires of the human ego personality, but rather, from the standpoint of the impersonal divine.

“Action will still be done in you because Nature is always at work; but you must learn and feel that your self is not the doer of the action. Observe simply, observe unmoved the working of Nature and the play of her qualities and the magic of the Gunas. Observe unmoved this action in yourself; look on all that is being done around you and see that it is the same working in others. Observe that the result of your works and theirs is constantly other than you or they desired or intended, not theirs, not yours, but omnipotently fixed by a greater Power that wills and acts here in universal Nature. Observe too that even the will in your works is not yours but Nature’s.”

“Draw back from this external formation to your inner silent self; you will see that you the Purusha are inactive, but Nature continues to do always her works according to her Gunas. Fix yourself in this inner inactivity and stillness: no longer regard yourself as the doer. Remain seated in yourself above the play, free from the perturbed action of the Gunas. Live secure in the purity of an impersonal spirit, live untroubled by the mortal waves that persist in your members.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, Second Series, Part II, Chapter 24, The Message of the Gita, pp. 564-565