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You have no control over the results of your actions. So don't pretend you do. This is the real source of the Bhagavad Gita's instruction to give up the fruits of your actions to the Lord (karma yoga): for this is a law which you cannot break but only, as Moses has it in the movie The Ten Commandments, against which you can break yourself. But then how should you decide which actions to perform?


Do your duty, i.e. what you should do. But what should you do? What you are born to do, the Gita says, and, moreover, what you will decide to do regardless. For the self is beyond these bodies and minds and, in fact, each mind is spun by the Lord as in a great machine, and he commands their movement.

 

There is no individual decision - and this makes even more sense considering that even your very next thought cannot be decided by your individual mind, which is, after all, itself simply a thought, the ego thought. That ego thought is Janus-faced, looking inward at its origins in pure spirit, and outward at its perceptions and memories -- at, in other words, the "character" that it plays. 

 

In a play, can a "character" that the actor plays make any decision about what to do next? No. But what about the actor? The actor can, but anything that comes into the screen of mind is ALREADY a decision made by the Actor that we are, the bigger I behind the little I.  

 

So for the Gita to instruct Arjuna, the character, to do his duty, all the while telling him he has no actual control (that in fact, the forces of nature alone, the gunas, act); to tell him to make a decision, while telling him he is whirled around by God and that his own nature as a fighter will make a decision in keeping with itself regardless of his pretensions to decide otherwise; to say he must act, as the Lord acts, to keep the worlds functioning, all the while saying that these very same worlds are illusion and that the wise mourn neither for the living nor the dead; that time (kala) kills all and that no one is really killed; to say that action is best but the wise man is not deluded into thinking he is acting, and that indeed no one can stop acting for even a second; to preach knowledge while pointing out that the naturally evil will be unable to listen or take heed - all these point clearly to a paradox which the Gita is outlining, which is that the very notion that one IS the character to whom the decision occurs is wrong

 

One has no choice, but it SEEMS that way, and these instructions are given to a false character, just as one character gives another advice in a play even as the latter has zero choice in what happens. And of course this is even more complicated since there is a disanalogy here - actors are human while the intelligence behind our minds is presumably not. Anything that passes onto the screen of our minds, which is ultimately pure witness ("sakshi"), pure window, is already a decision made, and the window has no control over what passes it next, not even the continued knowledge that it is a window. 

 

Indeed the window is a mirror, itself only a thought, a mere frame for other reflections which it appears to see outside but which are only reflections and distortions, like objects seen glinting off bubbles. The "danger" (not really a danger - for dangers cannot really be to merely fictional characters) is that one takes this as an allowance to lie back and not act. That is still perpetuating the incorrect understanding (both of which, admittedly, are simply observations passing through the window of mind) that one acts, whereas the true understanding is that one does not act at all, indeed does not exist at all, except from the character's point of view, which itself exists only as an assumption again passing that same window, a construct as deep or shallow as the mind of a character in a novel. 

 

The sense of will, then, the sense that "I" can make a decision - even as subtle a decision as to simply bear in mind that I am not the decision-maker - is completely false. For one is VIEWING the illusion that one is a mind deciding to recognize that fact. One might as well be watching a videotape of an indecisive philosophical someone wrestling with a problem, having confused himself with yourself. Though, admittedly, again, there is an issue of viewpoints, where this very set of points I have made can also be viewed from an individual-character's standpoint, where the data will be interpreted differently. From such a standpoint, the entire personality is at least partly the decisions of the personality itself, and rational decisions matter, and the choice right now to move toward or away from this thought or to do or not do this action is mine. 

 

From the spiritual viewpoint--itself still only an elephant passing the watering hole spied from the window of consciousness--these very contradictions point to the spiritual truth. The paradoxical, contradictory nature of the individual and choice, its very susceptibility to vastly different interpretations, is proof of the inarticulability of the true situation, which finally can only be expressed as anirvachaniya (wondrous and indescribable) - is by virtue of that very fact far closer to the idea of no-freedom-no-ego than any other. There is some indescribable cosmic relation whereby we are simultaneously explicable as the character, as Brahman, and as the product of nature, as the illusory but not wholly false window-ego. These paradoxes are like spirals winding ever-upward.

 

I for now do not find the "character's" viewpoint of freedom and action even remotely plausible, but that is in part because I am thinking about it from a certain state of mind. If I were in the earlier state, the sense that I am the character which I seem to be would seem compelling, like the dream is extremely compelling to the dreamer, but not to the waker. Still, the mystery of how the infinite can be locked up -- or appear to be so, or appear to be reflected in the small jar of mind -- remains. The paradoxes of viewpoint remain. 

 

My mind returns again and again, as if drawn magnetically, to a sense of doership. I feel at times deeply this anxiety that I must act, that I am in control, that my body is at risk if I do not act. It is unclear what it means to recognize that I am not the actor. And, indeed, that realization seems inevitably to draw towards itself the conclusion that I do not need to act - which is actually an affirmation of the false I and is a decision to act by not acting. Keeping one's mind on the truths (as they can best be expressed in these deliberately relative and contradictory words) -- perhaps that itself is the best one can hope for, though even that decision does not but appear to be in the hands of the fictional character we view thinking it is real, thinking it is I.

 


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About Akilesh Ayyar

Akilesh is a writer in Brooklyn interested in literature, philosophy, and psychology and also writes at Sifting to the Truth


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