ACTION WITHOUT END
FOR every human being, action is a problem. He is unable to act simply and put an end to the matter, In every action his thought, emotions and mind are involved, and, because they are intermingled for him, action involves the question of right and wrong, of good and bad results, of ends and means. Looking back at what he has done, he sometimes feels remorse; more often he congratulates himself, finding excuses and explanations and shifting responsibility on other people or on circumstances. The memory of past acts brings to the present many emotions and thoughts.
Man also looks ahead. He projects action into the future, imagining himself saying or doing certain things, getting the better of others, winning success, putting things right or making things comfortable for himself. In thus projecting action in his imagination, again, complex mental movement is involved. There may be fear of what will happen when a particular line of action is taken. There may also be hope and expectation, or these may alternate. Since sometimes he is hopeful and sometimes fearful there is no simple action. What he thinks are good results or bad depends on his emotions and thoughts. When his desires are likely to be fulfilled, the result becomes ‘good’ and if he is disappointed the result is ‘bad’. So, the result is related to the pulls within, to the many passing moods, the desires and wishes for self-fulfilment. Action, then is intermingled with all that goes on inside. The outward action cannot be separated from the mental and emotional condition.
Human society is complex, and hence action means coping with that complexity. There are innumerable forces at work in the environment around us; the religious direction of a particular society, the social conventions which exist, the kind of education which is given, family pressures, and so forth. These forces are not coherent; they pull in different directions. They pressurize the person from many different angles and action means responding in the midst of all those forces.
Action which emanates from an individual creates reactions in the environment and in the human society around him. Again, reactions may be favourable or unfavourable from his point of view. It is almost impossible to forecast in advance exactly what reactions to a particular action or course of actions will arise. This process of action by the person setting up reactions from the outside world, and of forces operating in society demanding responses from the individual - all this is the field of action. Because we are living in a complex, interconnected, interdependent world, as many scientists, ecologists and environmentalists are now aware, there is really no action which is not interaction.
There is interaction even with non-human elements because when we act in various ways, as we are finding out now, there are inevitable consequences affecting the outside. For example, we are destroying the trees of the world at an enormous rate. Most people are not aware of the consequences immediately. But the carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing and there will be less and less oxygen to breathe as time passes.
We are not only interconnected with the natural environment, but also with the human environment, with the emotions, the thoughts, the ‘atmosphere’ of the whole world. That is why every individual is impelled by the psychic atmosphere surrounding him, by the cloud of thoughts and feelings, by the national aura so to speak, or by the religious climate around him. In Nazi Germany, for instance, if people fell into the pattern of doing certain things, it was not because they were different from you and me but because the total atmosphere was acting upon them.
It is important then, to realize that we live in a complex field of multi-dimensional relationships - of multi-causality, we might say - because life is an intricate web of relationships. Though much of this is not perceptible to our senses, if we are a little careful in watching and sensing, we can know that such relationships do exist. And as we are part of that total web of inter-relationships, emotionally, in thought, and at the sensory or physical level, we cannot remain in isolation.
There are certain interesting facts being brought to light through present-day research. It is said for example that although we think we own our physical bodies and that the physical body is a unit, actually, it consists of colonies of invisible micro-organisms, so that we might well question whether it is ‘our’ body, or a conglomerate of colonies of other creatures. This shows in what sort of relationships we might exist without being aware of them. But one thing we can be sure of is that isolation is impossible because we are an intrinsic part of that intricate web.
Actionlessness too is impossible because there is a continual movement and change in the web of relationships. We may mentally conceive of remaining apart, or escaping change, but there is no possibility of either inactivity or isolation. What we imagine as escape into inactivity is in fact a different kind of action born of fear, the desire to avoid what is outside us or within us; this wanting to escape makes us enclose ourselves and pretend that we can step aside. But action arising out of fear or insecurity is not actionlessness. We are reminded of the well-known verse in the Bhagavad-gita: ‘Not for an instant can anyone remain actionless; helplessly is everyone driven to action by the qualities born of nature.’
Now our minds are the result of innumerable influences. There is firstly the influence of the environment. The mind changes depending on whether we are in a difficult environment or an easy one. For example, people who live in a fertile land may become lazy because they have only to scatter seeds carelessly for crops to grow.
There are also all the factors in the human environment. Our racial heredity gives a particular turn to the mind. There are the broad classifications which people have made (which may be inaccurate), for example, that the western person is objectively oriented and that the easterner’s mind is more subjective. But racial characteristics, the influence of education, the particular type of upbringing each one is given by his parents , the early influence of teachers - all shape the mind. It is said that before a child can speak, even in its earliest years, it had already absorbed various attitudes. Parents who are anxious that the child should become successful are teaching the infant, who is too young to speak or read, that he must be competitive. Therefore, unknown to ourselves, from a very tender age, we are conditioned.
Besides all this, our own past experiences, the buffetings we have undergone, the pleasure we have enjoyed, our reactions to them, our desires and disappointments are a continuing influence on the mind. These and perhaps more factors form the mind, give it a colouring and a direction. Each one of us who says ‘this is my mind’, this is me’, this is how I feel’. Is unaware that this is not necessarily what I feel, it is something which has been moulded into me by many different influences. The mind is the result of a number of factors which shape it, contract it and do many things to it. Unaware of this, we act and try to bring about results which we think are good or bad, which may bring in their train a series of other consequences because we are living in a field of multi-causality.
The result is thus a product of the patterning and the distortion which the mind undergoes. It is also a product of its past. The end is projected into the future, but comes from an unconscious past, even while we think we are exercising discrimination and choice in the present. Truly has it been said that when the gods want to punish an individual they answer his prayers. When a person seeks to bring about the ‘good’, it may in fact be utter folly, something which will bring about his own pain. The things which people seek may be apparently good, but in fact result in the opposite of what they want. As Plato said everybody thinks and acts from the point of view of what he considers to be good. Even when a man commits a crime, or injures somebody, he thinks he is bringing about his own good. The result corresponds to and represents the inadequacy and illusions of the mind.
As we have seen, society and the individual constantly act and react upon each other and hence, what the individual thinks of as his aim, his own particular purpose, is in fact programmed into him. There are psychologists and others now who assert that it is important to exercise choice. But the mind which has been patterned and programmed to be what it is, is not capable of exercising choice. The choice is predetermined; it is the result of the present condition of the mind and the past influences upon it. A person with a definite aim imagines that his mind has clarity. But his aim is the aim of the society in which he lives. The Muslim, the Hindu, the communist, every person within his own narrow limitations thinks he has clear aim. But that aim, together with his ambitions and desires, are all programmed into his mind.
Why is it that the human psyche is so full of aims, political, religious, economic, social, personal, family? Have we not been conditioned into believing that we must have aims in life and pursue them? Perhaps, the society, which we ourselves create, has made us think this is an essential part of living. The ends which we seek to achieve may be merely the result of the individual as well as the total human experience, which is a sad experience. Gathering what he thinks are the lessons of that experience - the memories, the hatreds, the prejudices and stresses - man generates within himself motives which urge him to achieve certain ends.
Within the motive, there are not only the ideas formed as a result of various influences, emotions and reactions, but attitudes of expediency, the primitive urge for survival which is built into the brain. This is our animal heritage which takes on numerous sophisticated forms in modern society. Often, what we think to be a good motive is only a way of self-projection. All motives, since they are contradictory, personal - each trying to achieve something for himself, his family or those associated with him - breed tension and struggle.
When we live with motives, we encounter strain. Wherever there is ambition, desire for achievement, an end to reach, there is continual stress, and the mind becomes blunt, less sensitive. The very tissues of the brain are said to degenerate with stress, and loading it with memories, information, emotions, accelerates the process.
Often the more one-pointed and intense the desire to achieve an end, the less clarity and sensitivity there is. When a person is really one pointed in trying to get what he wants, he neither cares about nor notices anything else. People who do research are often indifferent to the use of which the knowledge acquired may be put. The result may be the atom bomb that will kill millions of people, but the persons responsible for it do not care; chemicals may destroy the earth, but the inventor is unconcerned. Nor do people care if millions of animals are tortured in the process of research. Some researchers declare animals have no feelings, although one has only to watch them, the joy they feel when they meet one, the loyalty and affection they show, to realize that they feel a great deal. The religious bigot, the social worker, and other categories of people are equally prejudiced and short-sighted. When fascinated by an end, obsessed by what we want, we do not notice anything else and sensitivity, the power of observation and of feeling, and clarity of thinking are lost.
When the motive is strong, the desire to achieve is intense, the result becomes so important that the means of achieving it does not matter. That is how millions of people were murdered in order to bring about the communist society, which claims to work for the welfare of the world. Respect for life cannot exist where the result is so important that objects, people, animals, trees become ‘things’. The future as projected by the mind, looms large and everything in the present is sacrificed to the imaginary future.
When the result is important, there is division also between means and ends. People make war to bring about peace. What can be more absurd? The armaments race and the manufacturing of weapons go on, while people talk about peace. We ourselves do the same sort of thing at a personal level: we fight in order to ‘settle’ a question. Similarly, one may punish and frighten a child for his good and everybody else’s good. Fear suppresses a child, makes him shrink into himself, pushes hatreds and fears into his subconscious. This is the system adopted in many educational institutions, at homes, everywhere. Religions condition the mind in order to make it free. They speak about liberation or salvation, a state in which there is a different dimension. But first the mind is thoroughly conditioned in order to liberate it!
One sees the absurdity of a division between ends and means. War, the armament race, talk of conquest - all this hardens the heart. How can hard hearts bring about peace? If people perform gruesome experiments on animals and become stony-hearted, how can mankind be ultimately benefited?
The end is in the means; the result is in the action; they cannot be separated. Therefore, the Bhagavad-gita teaches that one should not be concerned with the end or result: ‘ Thy business is only with action, never with its fruits. So, let not the fruit of the action be thine motive, nor be thou to inaction attached.’
The important question is, how can we give attention to action and not to the end to be achieved, because the end does not exist in fact. The future never actually exists, because it is only a concept or an image in the mind. When chronologically we are in the future, it is the present. Thus ends and results belong to a world of unreality; it is the projection of the mind into the future. The nature of the action, its quality, the harmony or absence of harmony in it, these are the reality. It is of extreme importance to realize that only the present is the real. Only through careful attention to action - and to what the end is going to be - can we understand the condition of the mind and the nature of the motive (whether that motive is apparent and acceptable or a subconscious and subtle urge). The motive is then seen to be nothing more than self-projection, whatever form it takes. The desire for survival, for security, pleasure, for fulfilment are all just the ego sense (ahamkara or ahambhava) in action. Without that self, neither the motive nor the seeking of the result exist. Therefore, the quality of the action in the present must be observed.
An ancient classic says: ‘reduce, reduce, keep on reducing.’ This refers to reducing knowledge, the experience with which the mind is loaded - in other words ‘unlearn’. Sri Sankaracharya says something similar in the famous statement: ‘All action is for the purification of the mind and not in order to achieve an end.’ Clarity of mind cannot come about unless attention is given fully to the present.
One of our problems is that when there is no motive, we imagine there is no action. We feel that only when there is the urge to be something, to accomplish or to reach an end, is there action. J. Krishnamurti on the other hand says: To arrive at the end is death.’ But we want a definite movement of thought and mind: it gives the feeling we are getting somewhere. However, real action may be of a totally different kind. If we can observe that the motive and the choice are built into us, it is the bundle of experiences to which we have given the name of ‘self’, we see that the problem really lies there and not elsewhere. Then there is clarity within, and the mind becomes uncluttered, free from pressures, influences, the various conditionings. Then there might be real action.
When a flower sheds its perfume, it is not action in the ordinary sense of the term, for it is only expressing what it is. This is action of a different order, which makes the life of the passer-by sweet. Even so, a mind which is free of motive, not seeking results, but giving attention to the present may spread abroad the fragrance of selflessness.
The enlightened person, a Buddha, has no motive in the ordinary sense of the term. He may teach, or he may not teach; he may speak or be silent; his very being is action and that action is a benediction to all that lives. It is like the sun which sheds its light and warmth and everybody lives and grows by it. It does this simply by being what it is.
So, there is action when the mind is free of all desire for ends. But it is a totally different action that is not different from being. That being is intelligent being. When ambitions and ends are no more, there is real intelligence and clarity of thought. In that sense, to be is to be intelligent and whatever action takes place is right action.
Action is only the manifestation of that which is within, and where
the thought is pure, where the speech is true and right, there the
action must inevitably be noble.
The Outer Court, Annie Besant