In spirituality, we have a term, karma, and by extension we have another term – karma bandhana. Mostly, we interpret karma to mean a deed, a deed that is bound to the law of cause and effect. Bandhana means bondage. So karma bandhana implies being bound to the consequences of one’s deeds, negative as well as positive.
However, another meaning of karma is to act. In this context karma bandhana would imply bondage to action. Each of us is conditioned to act. We cannot act. It’s actually evolutionary. It comes from the survival instincts that are a carryover of the hunter-gatherer age. As primitive tribals, we had to be on guard all the time. The reptilian brain was always at work. The moment it would sense a predator or spot any type of trouble, we would leap into action. How else would we have survived?
But we have moved on from the Nomadic age to the Agricultural age to the Industrial Age and now the Information Age. And the rules ought to change as well. There is no longer life-threatening danger around us all the time. So there is no need to stay vigilant 24×7, or jump into action at the stir of a leaf.
The business of busyness
This proclivity to act causes us much trouble. One big trouble is that it keeps us busy all the time. One of my favourite philosophers, Lin Yutang, has famously said: A wise man is never too busy; a busy man is never too wise. Busyness is not a virtue as many of us are given to believe. Leisure is a greater virtue. All culture is a product of leisure.”
The Calvinist virtue of hard work does not automatically imply that being busy is good. That’s a fallacy. One can be efffective even while one is going slow. Through the credo, ‘work is worship’, our culture has indirectly lauded workaholism. Many workaholics choose to call themselves karma yogis, whereas they could not be further off from its actual meaning. Krishna defined karma yoga as yogastha kuru karmani – take your actions from a space of yoga, from a space of ease. Workaholism is the polar opposite of ease.
The virtue of inaction
With this background, I want to propose to you a radical concept – inaction is higher than action. In the alpha culture that we live, the word inaction has gotten a bad rap. Because in a certain context, it means laziness. Some people choose to use the word non-action rather than inaction to distinguish it from laziness but that’s a matter of semantics. Besides, I don’t wish to denigrate laziness, either.
In the Ashtavakra Gita, Ashtavakra says a very important statement – aalasi shiromani – the lazy person is the king amongst men. This is very profound. Counterintuitive but true. Particularly if you understand the pitfalls of action. As Osho says, no lazy person has ever waged a war in this world. How can he? That would make him unnecessarily active.
Whether or not we wish to subscribe to laziness, we should always remember that idlers can often be as effective as the hustlers, if not better. Andrew Carnegie used to say that whenever he had a complex problem, he would call upon the laziest person on his team to solve it, knowing well that this person, being prone to inaction, is hardwired to come up with the easiest solution, and also quickly enough to enable him to return to his carefree space as soon as possible.
The perpetual time deficit
Being bound to act, as we have seen, is one half of what we call karma bandhana or the bondage of action. Being bound by action, is the other half. Have you observed that no matter what you do, work keeps adding up? Simple arithmetic suggests that the more you do, the less will be left on the plate for you to do. But it doesn’t work that way. The arithmetic of action is different.
The more you do, the more is created for you to do. Paradoxical but true. Suppose you take up a new project to increase your income. This singular action will lead to many actions in order to do this project enough justice. Most of us don’t get this point, and get caught up in more and more action. Work can go up ad infinitum.
Going slow on action gives us enough opportunity for work-life balance. It helps us deepen our immediate relationships to make them more intimate and meaningful. Our family and friends would be much happier if we become less addicted to work.
A busy person is generally so preoccupied with the various agendas driven by his mind that his body and his spirit suffer. Lesser action-addiction also translates into greater time availability to consciously work on the body and spirit, leading to improved health and accellerated inner transformation.
And most importantly, with tempered action-orientation, there will be time for all the simpler pleasures of life, like putting your baby to sleep, or chatting over coffee with an old school friend. These are pleasures that you could include in your life, if you would create time for them. After all, nothing is more important than living life fully.