Action and Attachment

Hi Ted,

First off congrats for your website. You are doing great work! I feel like telling you my (background) story but it can probably wait. For now I would like to stick to my question.

My question has to do with Desires and Vasanas. I have a proper understanding of Vasanas but I think the question is more pertinent to desires.

Basing ourselves on a Karma Yoga attitude (and so complete surrender) towards daily life will, with time, cancel out or make the vasanas fade away. This part is clear. Let’s take an example from daily life. There are times I would like to watch something (a movie or an episode from a TV serial), but then I get the doubt that by “giving in” to my Indriya of sight I will continue to remain in the vasana-samskara-desire-karma loop.

 

Most of the time I then go read Vedanta instead. Am I wrong in thinking this way? What exactly can be termed as “giving in” to the senses? When can I be sure that an action will not create other vasanas or not? I have been cultivating the habit of offering my every action to Brahman but there are times such doubts pass through my mind. Some clarity on this would be greatly appreciated. Clarity on what type of karma doesn’t come with the baggage of the vasana and more importantly, even though I offer every action to Brahman, how do I know if the “desire” comes from me or from Brahman and when would it be ok to “give in”, so to speak.

Thanks,
Walter

 

 

Hi, Walter.

 

There is no problem with giving into a vasana, or a desire, unless the desire is binding. Technically, vasana are the impressions left in the psyche from our past experiences. In that sense, all experience results in vasana. These vasana are of two basic types: pleasurable and painful. These vasana in turn develop into raga-dvesha, or likes and dislikes respectively. Raga-dvesha are not problematic in themselves. They are only a problem when they are binding. That is, when we think that the presence of some object we desire or the absence of some object we fear is essential for our wellbeing. In this regard, we are not talking basic desires like food, clothing, and shelter, but rather gratuitous desires, such as certain foods or styles of clothing or premium living conditions. Even these specific preferences are not in themselves bad. The only problem with them is if we believe that we cannot be happy unless our desires are satisfied. As long as we can remain composed and not feel that our essential wellness has been diminished in any way by the absence of the object of our desire, whether it be to acquire or keep a desired object or avoid or get rid of a feared one, we are not controlled by our desires. In other words, the desires—or vasana are non-binding, and hence we are free. That is, we are not dependent on an object for our happiness. Swami Dayananda used to say that we can have a million non-binding desires and be free, but if we have one binding desire, then we are not.

 

By giving in to a desire, you do reinforce the vasana, and thus remain in the vasana-kama-karma loop. But the question always is whether the desire is binding. If it is not, then the desire/vasana is not a problem. If it is, then it is. It is best to always keep this in mind and to use it as the litmus test for whether you should indulge the desire or not. In this regard, it is best to indulge desires moderately while continuing to engage in self-inquiry. Whenever you indulge a desire because you feel your really want, perhaps even need, the object, take the time to analyze whether the desire delivered on its promise. Did it provide permanent fulfillment. If you consistently do this over time you will see that no object can provide the permanent fulfillment you are truly seeking, and little by little the desire will weaken. It takes time, but this is the only way to truly neutralize a desire. Though it is good to practice some discipline and moderate your indulgence of desires, if you simply try to negate a desire by refraining from the action it requires to indulge it but don’t really convince the mind that the desired is not essential to your happiness/wellbeing, then as soon as your discipline abates, you will give in to the desire and remain trapped in the cycle.

 

As for the vasana-kama-karma itself, it ends when you realize that the self is not a doer. Ironically, ending the cycle has nothing to do with ceasing to act—though, again, the neutralization of binding vasana does most often require refraining from or at least moderating the frequency with which you indulge a desire. Once you realize that the self is not a doer, you realize that you are not acting and thus are not bound by the actions performed by the apparent person you seem to be. This is a subtle understanding, however, and can easily be used as a justification for indulging binding vasana. The bottom line is that only you will know whether a desire is binding. The central issues are to what degree you believe the desired object is necessary for your wellbeing and to what degree is your mind agitated by the desire, either by the impulse to chase the object or the frustration/anger/sadness you feel as a result of not getting what you want.

 

All the best,

 

Ted

 

 

Hi, Ted.

 

Thanks for your reply.

Would it be right to say that offering an action/activity to Brahman before carrying it out automatically makes the vasana “non binding”? By offering I mean recognising the fact that you as an individual (jiva) are not doing the karma but you as Brahman are the one carrying out the action.

Walter

 

 

Hi, Walter.

 

Your idea is basically correct; however, two points are worth clarifying.

The first point is that Isvara is that which carries out the action, not Brahman. Since the nature of Brahman is limitless conscious existence, Brahman is technically not a doer and, thus, it is not Brahman that executes the action.

More specifically, Brahman is actionless due to the following four factors: 1) all-pervasiveness, 2) perfect fullness, 3) impersonality, and 4) partless-wholeness. Because Brahman is all-pervasive, there is no context or field or bigger arena within which Brahman can carry out an action, for there is no background against which any movement or change, which are the hallmarks of action, can be measured. Because Brahman is perfectly full there is nothing Brahman could gain or get rid of that could in any way enhance its being and, thus, there is no motivation for Brahman to act. Moreover, even if Brahman could gain something by acting, Brahman as limitless conscious existence is impersonal (i.e., not an objectifiable individual with a willful mind) and, thus, could not feel the motivation to act or decide to act. Because Brahman is a partless whole, Brahman has no instruments with which to act and there is no other to act upon.

Technically speaking, the apparent conditioning influence of Maya, which is an inherent aspect of Brahman, causes Brahman to appear to be something it is not, namely objective phenomena in the form of both things/objects/items and events/experiences. Brahman “wielding” Maya, or under the influence of Maya, is what we refer to as Isvara, or God-the-Creator-Sustainer-Resolver of the manifestation. Isvara is both the objects that constitute the manifest universe and the dharma (i.e., the collective physical, psychological, and ethical laws) by which it operates. Thus, Isvara is both karta (i.e., the doer) and karma-phala-datta (i.e., the giver of the results of action).

The second of the two points of clarification is that offering an action to Brahman or Isvara, which we could also refer to as the dharma-field, is the first aspect of karma yoga, which is the most powerful means of neutralizing binding-vasanas, and thus is instrumental in rendering the action non-binding. The true litmus test for whether the vasana is non-binding is whether you are not dependent on the object/result-of-the-action for your sense of wellbeing. In other words, the practice of karma yoga itself does not immediately render a vasana non-binding, but since practicing karma yoga is the means by which you weaken and ultimately eradicate the binding nature of vasana, the practice of karma yoga is essential to your spiritual growth, or your progress toward moksha, or liberation.

All the best,

Ted