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Akarma: the baseline PDF Print E-mail
Gita - Gita Articles

karma[y akarma ya+ pa%yed akarma[i ca karma ya+
sa buddhim|n manu^ye^u sa yukta+ k&tsnakarmak&t

One who sees inaction in action and action in inaction, is a wise person. Such a person is a yog$ and has accomplished everything. (See also 3.05, 3.27, 5.08 and 13.29) (4.18)


Karma is being done all around
There are vibrations
And there are noises all around
Inside though is all peace and quiet
There is no doer in sight
Such is the ways
Of the wise
He sees non-doing in all doing
And doing in non-doing
And thus becomes the doer of it all. ||4:18||

Karma (doing) in akarma (non-doing) is not just a concept. It is the ultimate truth. It is a question of seeing the truth. The problem arises because we never come across akarma (non-doing) and therefore are unable to comprehend the possibility. Karma in akarma is in a potential form. It is the baseline.

I live in Maine, a state that is known for its snow in winter. People store wood for burning in winter for heating the house. The wood has a potential energy in it. The energy is manifest when it is ignited with a match. We know that because we can see the potential form of energy in wood and also see the fire when it burns. The heat is so obvious. The karma part of our life is so obvious. The potential part although present is not so obvious to most of us. Krishna is trying to show that potential to Arjun. Arjun has always known the doing part. Krishna first point out that karma (doing) has akarma (non-doing) part in it. This can be known by becoming a witness to the doing self. Then he goes on to say that akarma (doing) has karma in it as well. This is the part that we are trying to understand here.

I just went to India for a visit. We flew on Air France. While in the air, it is easy to forget that the plane really started from the ground. The plane is flying at an altitude of some 35000 feet. Food is being served. Movies are playing on and there is time to sleep as well. Just imagine for a moment that there was no landing for a long time. This is what they show in space voyages. Some one comes and says that the plane once started from stationary position. The plane that is going at 700 miles or so per hour started from a stationary point will be hard to comprehend in that situation. All we would have known by then is motion. How can the brain then imagine that this plane which has always been moving at a speed would have been still at some point of time in the past?

We start the flight from a zero position in time and space, gather speed and then at a later time land and become still again. We, however, know only the doing part of our lives. It is true when Krishna says that life is synonymous with doing. He is also correct that behind all karma lies the truth of akarma (non-doing). We know the karma part; we still have to know the akrama part of our being. Once we can experience this karma in akarma, then this shloka will reveal its meaning to us by itself.

The question then arises as to why we should try to know this truth. What is the purpose? Where is the gain? The path that Krishna started on karma yoga leads to this end. Once a person starts on the path of karma yoga where he is no more the doer, sooner or later he will come to know that there is akarma in all the karma being done. Karma is happening all around. The karma may be being done by me as well. Yet there is no doer in sight. Krishna is the source of existence. Yet Krishna is not the doer. This sounds so paradoxical, yet it is so true.

It is also important to know the center of our being. It is important to know the stillness that is present at this center. This is the center where there is akarma (non-doing). And this is also the potential of all karma that can happen around. This is the baseline similar to the base line of an airplane on the ground that is lying still in its hanger. This is where we all are before we are born and after we die. It is good to know this baseline and then it will be easy to take off from here. We will always remember that we can land when we want. Karma in akarma is a realization and not just a concept.

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