The Nature of Right Action, Wrong Action, & Inaction
Excerpts from God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita
by Paramahansa Yogananda
The Nature of Right Action, Wrong Action, & Inaction
The nature of karma (action) is very difficult to know. Verily, in order to understand fully the nature of proper action, one has also to understand the nature of contrary (wrong) action and the nature of inaction.
— The Bhagavad Gita IV:17
God is expressing Himself through Nature in innumerable activities. To the casual observer, to students of history, the earth is full of contradictions. This is because it is a world whose very existence depends on relativities—all activities interacting with one another to produce varying results.
What might be right in one set of circumstances may be wrong in another; or an action performed with one motive might be good, but that action instigated by another motive could be evil.
Also, man’s perspective and thus his cognition is shortsighted, looking to immediate results; but only by a long purview of history or of subsequent incarnations of an individual, or through the shortcut of farsighted wisdom, can the ultimate outcome of most actions, for good or evil, be truly known.
The Three Categories Of Human Action
... Lord Krishna, therefore, divides all human action into three categories:
right or proper action,
contrary or evil action, and
When the action performed tends to arouse soul consciousness it may be called proper action. All activities that lead the mind of the doer away from sense enslavement to soul enjoyment are proper actions. All actions that bring about the union of the ego with the soul and of the soul with God are proper actions ...
Actions in themselves have no meaning; the discriminative intention and self-control behind them determines whether they lead to liberation or to karmic slavery. Therefore the spiritual man must not be blamed for the similarity between, for instance, his act of eating and that of the greedy man. The man of self-control eats and strengthens his body while performing right action; but the greedy man overeats and follows an improper diet pleasing to his sense of taste, and thereby acts wrongly and harms his body.
Similarly, if harmonious music and sweet words can be converted into soul awakening, they are contributing to the cause of one’s liberation; but he who becomes a slave to music or sweet words of flattery unbalances his life and entangles himself in egotism. By using the sense of hearing wrongly, he is failing to heed the law of right action. If a piece of music has no high or holy vibrations, it arouses frivolous, nervous, or even base emotions. Spiritual music, such as hymns and devotional chants, raises the listener’s consciousness, dispelling coarser vibrations.
In the same way, the senses of sight and touch and smell can be converted into sources of soul awakening by right action; but careless indulgence gives rise to grave troubles. Thus, a love of beautiful faces, or the sense of touch, might lead to sexual promiscuity and consequent disease. The wise man sees all beauty as expressions of the Divine; he converts the sense of touch into the thrill of joy that permeates every cell of his body during ecstatic communion with God. He uses all of his senses only for divine enjoyment, harnessing these wild stallions to lead the car of his life to spiritual freedom.
Any action harmful to body, mind, or soul is contrary or wrong action, and is to be avoided. The sensual man overindulges in using the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch until he finds that all these mediums of happiness give him nothing but satiety and discomfort, The indulgent alcoholic is an example. He drinks himself into insensibility and suddenly realizes he has destroyed his health and all hope of happiness. Other types of men are so enslaved to beauty, taste, touch, smell, and hearing that they make their lives a living hades. Where is the “enjoyment” in actions that destroy all the charm of life? When the stallions of the senses lead the car of life headlong into the ditch of satiety, misery, and ill health, the blame cannot be shifted to any other agency than the careless driver...
To use again the example of the greedy man who eats only to please the senses, he offends both the laws of the soul and the laws of nature. He ultimately dies of some greed-caused disease...
As for sex, it should be used, rarely, to bring children into a family. The greater the victory over sex, the more buoyant the health, the more abundant the happiness. By keeping the mind on lofty thoughts, and by strenuous exercise, continuous action for God, and meditation, the sacred and powerful creative force can be transmuted into physical strength and health, mental creativity, and divine ecstasy in God-communion.
Unnecessary indulgences such as smoking, drinking, and remaining in bad company are gateways to physical and mental discomforts. One should seek pleasure in good company that helps to shape one’s will and judgment to pursue true happiness. It is through evil company that man, who is naturally imitative, learns to perform miserymaking actions. If one wants to find liberation and to understand what right actions are, he needs to seek the society of those who love God and meditate on Him.
True inaction occurs when the devotee has freed himself from all karma-producing actions, evil or good. He is then through with all compulsory forms of action; he has reached the state of inaction (that is, complete freedom from the necessity of and desire for action) that is characteristic of God the Father. The liberated yogi bubbles with ceaseless inner meriment whether he is sitting still or actively busy.
Performing actions with only the desire to please God is thus considered “inaction,” or nonbinding action.
After attaining this state of inaction the way is open to the devotee’s liberation...
Lord Krishna, in his oneness with Spirit, said: “Even though I have attained all things, still I work on, without desire.”