“One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.18)
कर्मण्य् अकर्म यः पश्येद्
अकर्मणि च कर्म यः
स बुद्धिमान् मनुष्येषु
स युक्तः कृत्स्न-कर्म-कृत्
karmaṇy akarma yaḥ paśyed
akarmaṇi ca karma yaḥ
sa buddhimān manuṣyeṣu
sa yuktaḥ kṛtsna-karma-kṛt
1. Karma without doing anything
Have you ever failed to speak up at an opportune moment? That was the time to voice your dissatisfaction. It would have meant something. It could have reversed the improper course that everyone else was following.
Have you ever failed to intervene when someone needed help? It could be a person stranded on the side of the road after a motor vehicle accident. It could be a child who was crying because they had lost their direction. They were looking for the mother or father, who were nowhere to be found.
Did you ever notice illegal behavior and not report the incident to the proper authorities? Did you regret not having more trust in your intuition, which spoke to you from the inside and raised an alarm as to what was going on?
These are classic examples of inaction leading to negative consequences. Under the strict definition, there was no work done. Therefore, the corresponding Sanskrit term is akarma. How can a person be blamed for not acting? That was the natural state, after all.
Nevertheless, there is karma in these cases. There is a consequence specific to the individual. Perhaps not according to the official lawbooks in the area of jurisdiction, but in nature’s way there is a consequence that results from having not acted.
2. No karma even from doing something
Have you ever done something and not had any reaction to it? Have you ever been going about your routine work for days, weeks and months and it felt like the time just whizzed by?
Have you ever wondered how emergency medical personnel are able to do their jobs? They see accidental death and destruction on a regular basis. They witness tragedy firsthand. They see the inevitable end of life occur on a repeat basis.
Yet they are able to continue working. There is no impact to their mentality. They continue forward, as if detached from the situation.
These are examples of action which doesn’t necessarily have consequences attached. It is karma in the visual sense, but akarma in terms of positive or negative relating to the period of engagement. This is especially true when the action aligns with prescribed duties.
These are some of the intricacies of action and inaction explained by Shri Krishna in Bhagavad-gita. The teaching was appropriate to the situation, as we had a bow-warrior considering abandoning the fight. He wanted to drop his weapons and leave the battlefield.
Though this looked like inaction, akarma, there were ghastly consequences to follow. Arjuna’s failure to uphold righteousness would reflect negatively on him in the future. There was subtle action to the inaction.
On the other side, if he fought valiantly, with interest during the time of engagement, but focus on the proper standard of behavior in the background, his karma would actually be akarma. The action would not impact him.
Arjuna would be following the direction of Shri Krishna, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Devotion to God the person features both of the aforementioned cases. There is action in inaction with respect to avoiding certain behaviors, like the four pillars of sinful life. While not acting, in the renounced way, they are building positive results.
They are also acting without consequences to the material body. In this way, we could say that everything that devotees do is akarma, in the classic definition. There is no future consequence pertaining to birth and death, since they are moving only for the pleasure of the Almighty.
They could be fighting in a war, preparing food in the kitchen, travelling to the office, sitting in front of a computer the entire day, taking care of young children, or simply relaxing in a chair to handle fatigue. In every case, the consciousness is linked to Krishna, and therefore the action is always akarma, which is the Divine way of living.
Karma through action showing,
But future body not growing.
Despite explicit interest taking,
Not bed of consequences making.
Since devotion to Supreme the source,
Blessed in every aspect of course.
Such that whether acting or not,
Divine consciousness got.
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