Finding the Balance Between Action and Inaction

The Yoga of knowledge emphasizes the importance of withdrawal from action in order to focus the attention and achieve the necessary mental and vital stillness for the achievement of spiritual liberation. There can be no doubt that the seeker must at some point undertake this focus and the ability to withdraw from the outer world’s demands is clearly helpful, if not in fact totally necessary.

At the same time, the Yoga of knowledge has tended to treat the withdrawal or renunciation of the outer world of action as a goal unto itself, and has thus condemned the outer life as being either of lesser importance or reality, or an illusory existence from which the seeker must escape.

Sri Aurobindo observes that for the integral Yoga, which accepts the reality of the world and its spiritual purpose, a total abandonment of that world is neither necessary nor desired. “The seeker of the integral state of knowledge must be free from attachment to action and equally free from attachment to inaction.” He goes on to state that with the withdrawal a tendency toward inertia may arise, and this must be counteracted, as it is a rising up of tamas, and is not beneficial to the spiritual development. The ideal poise is one in which the body-life-mind act purely as instruments of the forces of Nature put to work by the will of the Purusha carrying out the spiritual intention of the Divine.

He therefore counsels, until a state of higher perfection can be realized, a course of moderation of action: “When we attain to this perfection, then action and inaction become immaterial, since neither interferes with the freedom of the soul or draws it away from its urge towards the Self or its poise in the Self. But this state of perfection arrives later in the Yoga and till then the law of moderation laid down by the Gita is the best for us; too much mental or physical action then is not good since excess draws away too much energy and reacts unfavourably upon the spiritual condition; too little also is not good since defect leads to a habit of inaction and even to an incapacity which has afterwards to be surmounted with difficulty.”

“Still, periods of absolute calm, solitude and cessation from works are highly desirable and should be secured as often as possible for that recession of the soul into itself which is indispensable to knowledge.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Two: The Yoga of Integral Knowledge, Chapter 7, The Release From Subjection to the Body, pp. 332-333