There is only one path that can keep you unaffected while doing the things you must do in this world.
The path which is discussed by the Ishavasya is this path: live by surrendering to existence, give it all away, leave everything at its feet. Surrender everything to it. Giving up the notion of yourself as the doer, you can live your life and remain unaffected by performing your worldly duties. This is the only path; there is no other.
It will be useful to understand two or three points in this connection. Number one: to live in this world without being affected by karma, by your doings, is a great alchemy, and a matter of great worth and wisdom. It is almost like imagining a person coming out of a coal-cellar without any trace of coal-dust on him. Moreover, this is not a matter of living in the coal-cellar for an hour or two. If we consider our whole life's duration, we are talking about a period of one hundred years; and if we consider many lives of the past, our journey will be through many thousands of years. Now, it will be a matter of great wisdom, or else of extraordinary luck, if a person living in such a coal-cellar, for one hundred years performing his daily routine - waking, sleeping, sitting, standing and so on - can yet remain untouched by the coal-dust in the cellar. It is quite obvious and natural that he will be smeared with soot. It is quite feasible to imagine that not only will the person come into contact with the coal-dust in the cellar, but may well actually turn into coal-dust. He will probably look like the incarnation of coal-dust! It seems difficult to believe - living in his cellar for a hundred years - that a man will not become coal-dust itself.
How can we pass through a thing without touching it? No sooner do we pass through it than we are joined with it. When we are angry, we become merged with our anger. When we love someone, we are united with him or her. Whenever we fight or run away or enjoy a thing, we are merged with our activity. Even when we make our renunciation, we are merged with it; and if we are joined with our renunciation, we tarnish our hands with soot. We are stained. The pride of having so much wealth arises in a man's mind when he is enjoying its fruits. Similarly, renunciation brings into his mind the pride of having renounced so much. That pride is coal-dust for us; that conceit is soot itself.
No matter how a person passes his life of a hundred years, he will do something, and if it is done with pride, it will blacken him. But this sutra of the Ishavasya tells us that there is a path which enables a person not to lose his purity, and where he is not affected by his actions, despite living in a coal-cellar. This seems impossible, but it is not impossible if we rightly understand the meaning of this sutra. A man can do anything, it says, but as long as he is the doer, he will be blackened. Only one alternative is available: to cease entirely to be the doer.
One cannot avoid actions. Actions will certainly be there as long as we live. It is a mistake to say, "Give up doing things so that there is no chance of being smeared by them." Actions will be there till death. To breathe in is an action. It is not only the man who runs his shop who is involved in action; the beggar also is doing. It is not only the housekeeper who is involved in doing; the man who leaves his house and runs to the jungle is doing too. Their actions may differ, but this does not mean that the one's is an action and the other's is nonaction: both are actions so there is no point in believing we can protect ourselves from the coal-dust, when leaving it all is as much an action as living it all. By thinking thus, we will get nowhere. Giving up actions one runs away, but then that running away becomes one's action. Action binds us fast.
There is only one way out of this predicament, and that is to find freedom from being the doer, even though we cannot free ourselves from doing. But how can we free ourselves from doing when the doing is going on? Shall I not become the doer when I am doing the action?
The Ishavasya tells us that even while doing, we can be free from being the doer. Ordinarily it appears to us that we can perhaps be free from becoming doers only if we give up actions. "I shall do nothing, hence I shall not become the doer." But the Ishavasya tells us quite definitely that this is impossible. On the contrary, what is possible is that you go on doing things, but you remain separate from becoming their doer.
Don't be doers! How can this be? We are acquainted a little with such action. To act on stage is to experience the possibility of doing without being the doer. Rama weeps aloud in the forest when Sita is lost. He runs from tree to tree, clinging to the trunks and crying, "Where is Sita?" Crying to the trees, the actor possibly wails more earnestly than Rama himself, and maybe more cleverly and skillfully too, because Rama had no opportunity for rehearsal. This actor has had plenty of practice.
He performs the very same actions which Rama performed, but there is no doer behind them; there is only an actor.
Remember, actions can be of two kinds: one in which there is a doer, and the other in which there is an actor. If the actor replaces the doer, the action will continue on the surface, but there will be total transformation within. Acting does not bind you to the action, it does not affect you. It remains entirely outside, it does not enter within. It does not go deep within, it vibrates on the surface and then disappears. No matter how much the actor of Rama may weep and grieve, those tears do not come from his inner self. Usually he has to apply coal dust to make the tears fall, and if he does not use coal dust it is because he has learned to shed tears through practice. They do not come from the depth but from the surface. He shouts, he makes great noise, but it comes from his throat and not from his heart. The inner self remains absolutely untouched and unaffected. He passes through the coal-cellar, but not as a doer; he remains an actor.
Remember, it is the doer who gets covered in coal-dust, not the action. If it were the action that caught the coal-dust, then what the Ishavasaya says could not happen, what the Gita says could not happen. Then there would be no escape from action as long as one lived. Then one could be free from action only after death. Then it appears there would be no liberation as long as life persists.
But how can one be free after death when one cannot be free while living? If one cannot be free while living, there is certainly no scope to find freedom after death.
If action itself can be smeared with the soot of life, then liberation is impossible. But those who search deep within say that the coal dust clings to the doer and not the doing. That is, it clings only when one says, "I am the doer," when the emphasis is on the action and when I and the action are identified with each other. Only when the tarnishing happens - when the I becomes one with the action, and says "I am the doer" - only in such a situation does the coal-dust cover the doer; and then life is filled with darkness and blackness.
If there is no one within saying, "I am the doer," and at the same time there is the knower who understands that the action is going on - that the actors have come together on the stage to enact the drama - then it makes no difference how great the stage is; let it be as wide as the whole world!
It makes no difference that the curtain in the drama is raised only once at the time of birth, and is lowered only at the time of death. Nor does it matter that the drama is very long between the raising and lowering of the curtain. All this makes no difference; it does not affect you at all if you see it from within as a performance. If you carry this understanding within, then the whole world is a leela - a play, a drama, a stage for you - and life itself is like a story. Then we are actors, and nothing affects the actors.
This sutra of the Ishavasya says there is only one way for a man not to be affected while performing his duties in life, and that is to transform life into acting. But we are extraordinary people. We transform acting into life, but we do not transform life into acting. We try many times over to present our acting as our real life, and our repetitive actions actually become the driving forces of our lives.
If we consult psychologists, they say that man's obvious behavior is all cultivated action. It is all conditioning.
We call this man's nature, but the psychologists declare that there is nothing like man's nature. If there is anything like man's nature, it is endless fickleness. Man's nature is like water. If we pour water into a glass, it assumes the shape of the glass, and if it is poured into a cup, it assumes the cup's shape; if it is poured into a pitcher, it assumes the shape of the pitcher. Water always assumes the shape of the vessel into which it is poured. Then what is the natural shape of water? It has no natural shape. Its nature can be described as the capacity to assume endless shapes. Water is not obstinate, it is not stubborn. It does not assert, "I shall remain in this particular shape." It says, "I am willing to live in any shape, whatsoever it may be."
Man also has no nature of his own. The phenomenon which we call nature is just frequently practiced behavior patterns. It is actions performed in a cultural frame in often repeated circumstances. So, a person born in the family of a nonvegetarian eats meat. It is not his nature that chooses it; if he had been brought up in the house of a vegetarian, he would have taken to vegetarian food. Then he might become nauseous or upset at the sight of meat. But this is no testimony to a virtuous nature, any more than eating meat signifies an evil nature. Characteristics such as these are no indicators of greatness.
The shape of an action is a practiced thing, which we are teaching to people from their very infancy.
If we rightly understand what that training is, it is just a preparation for the performance a person will be expected to give in his life. Our educational institutions are rehearsal studios. They are the training studios where we prepare ourselves for the performances of our lives. We train a person to act in a particular fashion in our families, society, schools and universities. We train one as a Hindu, another as an American, another as a Chinese, and another as a Christian. When they are thus trained and their frame of mind becomes strong and firm, it looks as though that frame of mind is their nature. No, all these are just much repeated performances, so firmly fixed eventually in man's mind that it does not even occur to him that he is simply acting his part.
Have you ever thought what religion you belong to? Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity and other religions are all performances taught to you. If you had not been trained in them you would never have known about them. But when you say, "I am a Hindu," you become the doer. Then you can take a sword in your hand to defend your religion. Then lives can be sacrificed and killing can be done. Quarrels can be picked with anyone who says you are not a Hindu.
Psychologists used to say that habit is second nature. This was the view of past psychologists.
But modern psychologists say, instead, that nature is the first habit. As more and more research is conducted into man's nature, it is more and more convincingly known that nature is the first habit - a deep-seated one that became so firmly fixed that man forgot that he was performing. If you can keep it in mind that you are performing, there will be no more killing one another. On the contrary, you will say, "What madness! I am playing the part of being a Hindu and you are playing the part of being a Mohammedan; why should there be any quarrel in that?" No, it is when this phenomenon is not looked upon as a play, as acting, that quarrels and fighting break out. People become serious then, and they cease to be playful.
Eric Berne has written a book called Games People Play. He does not deal merely with games like football, hockey, cards and chess, but with those of being Hindus, Mohammedans, and Christians.
These are also games which people play, sometimes at great cost and with much harm. Chess players have been known to take up swords against each other over the issue of their victory or defeat, so it is hardly a matter of great concern that they kill one another over the matter of their religious differences.
It seems that when the games are taken seriously they become part and parcel of life; and whatever is taught is clung to. All over the world women have been taught that they are inferior to men, and they have believed it. But there are matriarchal societies also, where man is taught that he is inferior to woman; and the people in such a social order will cling to this belief. There are families where the woman has superiority over the man. The interesting thing about this situation is that in the case where woman is superior to man, the women have become more intelligent than the men. And where woman was taught her inferiority to man, the men became more intelligent.
We mold men like water in vessels. Then acting holds the ego so fast that it does not say, "I am acting"; it says, "I am!" Then being a Hindu is not a play: it is what I am. And the coal-dust begins to affect you as soon as you say, "I am." It could be considered less important if it only affected you:
but a person smeared with coaldust soon begins to throw it over others also. The coal-dust on our hands is passed on to others. We ourselves are blackened and we blacken others. We set about transforming the acting into a role performed by a doer.
When two small children celebrate the marriage of two dolls, we say they are playing. But have you ever recognized that the marriage of a man and a woman is, to some extent, nothing more than the marriage of dolls? In both the marriages, all forms, all considerations, all arrangements, all music, all show and all the other trappings are the same. The only difference is that the one is played by small children and the other is played by grown-up children. Small children forget the game quickly; they do not remember in the evening that the marriage was celebrated in the morning. But grown-up children go even to the lawcourts to fight for their marital rights. They do not forget the event, but cling to it fast.
Nobody is prepared to see their marriage as a play. It is difficult to do so, because if the marriage is considered as a play, then the family which is the result of marriage must inevitably be looked upon as a play. Then the community made up of these families is also a play. Thus the circle expands, until the whole human world encompassing this community becomes a play. That is why we have to cling firmly to every detail of our position and say, "No, the institution of marriage is not a play, it is a serious matter; it is a life-and-death issue." The family is not a play, the community is not a play.
Then every step, every action, becomes as hard and intractable as stone.
The whole structure becomes more and more rigid; and we, the society, will destroy any person who regards this manmade arrangement as only a play, because such a person threatens to undermine all our serious arrangements. He refuses to obey the rules of our game, so we take revenge upon him. Our life is a long, continuous acting; but we have so structured the acting that we can say it is our doing - we are the doers.
The Ishavasya affirms the opposite. It says, "At least know acting as acting; there is nothing in this world of which you should be crazy enough to be its doer. If you become the doer, you are certainly insane. Let existence be the doer. Leave everything to it which always is, which was when you were unborn, will be when you have ceased to be. Leave all your doings to existence. Do not take the load of doing upon yourselves. That load will be far too much for you; it will be more than you can bear. To carry that load is beyond your capacity. You will be crushed under its weight and you will die. Nothing can save you from it."
But our ego finds it difficult to swallow this. On the contrary, it takes pleasure in the weight of the boulder on its chest. It says, "I am lifting such a heavy stone, and what you are lifting is nothing compared to my burden! I am carrying such a heavy load!" The president, the prime minister, are people who take pleasure in carrying heavy boulders. For lifting such boulders they receive thousands of insults and find themselves in thousands of difficulties. But they can say, "Look at the paltry little stone you carry on your back: you are no more than the president of your village - where is the comparison between you and me? I am the president of the whole state and you are the president of a village!" The desire to become village president is small scale; to become president of a country requires craziness on a larger scale. But the constant preoccupation of the village president is with the matter of when he will be able to carry bigger boulders. Throughout our lives we value the person in proportion to the weight of the stone - the greater the load on his back the greater he is.
The truth runs exactly contrary to this belief. Those who know look for the person with no load on his back; he carries no burden and is as light as a flower. But it is difficult to find such a person, because everyone clings on to some load or other; no matter how small, the load is there. If he is not the village president, he is at least the head of his family - and it is not always the case that only the father is the head of the home. If the father goes out for a while, his eldest child will assume the role of head over his younger brothers and sisters. He immediately begins to dominate them.
He begins to play the role of his father. For instance, your eldest son is quarreling with his younger brother in your presence, but if you leave that place, you will, all of a sudden, find that the eldest begins to dominate. He begins to play the role which you were playing. Its scale may be small, its status may be small, but the drama is the same. You may be playing out this drama before two or three hundred people, while your son is enacting the same drama before two or three children.
There is no difference in the drama, only the proportions differ. Small children will play small dramas, grown-up children will play big ones, and the elders will enact really great dramas.
Man is upset when he cannot show that he carries a big load on his back, so another interesting feature emerges: he generally boasts a bigger load than he actually has. There was a lady professor with me in the university where I was working. I was fed up hearing about her various illnesses. Can a person have so many illnesses? Whenever she met me she would complain about some great illness; she never suffered from small ones. Then I asked her husband about her suffering from so many illnesses, and added that, ordinarily, a wife is herself sufficient illness for a husband, "but in your case all these illnesses are added to it. How do you cope with it all?"
He replied, "Please don't believe in her stories. She never suffers from a petty illness. Even a little cold she will never talk of as anything less than tb!"
I was puzzled and began to wonder what secret lies behind the need to magnify one's illnesses.
Here is the secret: if you have a serious illness, you have a heavy burden; you will be considered important. But if you suffer from a small illness you become a worthless person, because your illness is of a trifling nature. It does not carry much value, there is no need for others to worry about you. So serious illnesses are called royal diseases - tb was looked upon as a royal disease. Poor people did not suffer from it, only kings suffered from it!
Recently I was reading about a woman who approached a doctor and requested him to remove her appendix. The doctor asked, "Is your appendix troubling you?"
The woman said, "No, but that doesn't matter. All the women of the club where I am a member have been operated upon - some have their appendix removed, some have something else removed, but nothing has been removed from my body. I don't have anything to talk about!"
Man treasures the burden on his back, so it is difficult to discover a person as light as a flower who can say, "I carry no load." Only a man who has entrusted all his load to existence can say so, and the interesting thing about this is that the whole load is in any case existence's alone. We poke our noses in unnecessarily. Our condition is similar to that of a passenger who was traveling in a train with his load on his head. The other passengers persuaded him to put it on the floor, and then said, "Why do you burden yourself unnecessarily?"
He replied, "I only bought a ticket for myself." He was so simple and guileless. He said, "I haven't bought a ticket for my luggage. How can I keep this trunk and the bedding on the floor? It would be cheating the government. So I am keeping it on my head."
Now that simple man had no idea that keeping the load on his head would make no difference to the train's total load. The total load of this universe is borne by existence. The whole performance of managing the affairs of the universe is done by existence alone. But we are very strange passengers.
We derive great happiness from keeping our luggage on our heads during our journey in existence's train. We even say to those who carry small burdens, "You have wasted your life. You should have increased your load." And why? So that by the time the man dies the load on him looks so great that everyone will remark on how much he has left behind! This is why, when someone dies, we gossip even about loads they were never carrying. We help make the load look greater.
I have heard: a man died, and the village priest, standing near his grave, began to talk about him while lowering his coffin into the grave. He praised his virtues, his good deeds, and his services to others. Hearing this, the dead man's wife became a little worried. She asked her son to bend a little to look into the coffin and to make sure that it contained his father's body, because she had never heard about all these good deeds he was said to have done. At night she went to the priest and asked him, "What were you saying about my husband? As far as I know, my husband never did any of the things you were talking about."
The priest replied, "Never mind. He may not have done any of those good deeds, but what will people say of your husband if no such activities are mentioned?"
Voltaire had a friend. He had insulted Voltaire throughout his life. He used to criticize him in every possible manner. He used to oppose Voltaire on every issue. He was not a good person. When he died, some people went to Voltaire and said, "Let there be peace between you now; after all, he was your friend. Granted that he insulted you a lot, called you names, criticized you bitterly, and tried to undermine you. But now that he is dead, please write a few words in praise of him." So Voltaire wrote, "He was a good man, and a great one - provided he is really dead." If a person is living we are unable to praise him. Once he is dead we have to praise him, and burdens which he never carried are ascribed to him.
But the Ishavasya is referring to a person about whom there remains nothing to praise after his death. It talks about one who has thrown all his authorship on existence. One who says, "I am not at all, it alone is there. If there is a doer, it is existence only. At the most, I am only a pawn in its game.
I am willing to go wherever it directs; I am willing to be what it wishes, I am willing to do whatever it commands. If it wishes to defeat me I am willing to be defeated; if it makes me the winner, I am willing to win. Neither victory nor defeat is mine. Defeat is existence's, victory is existence's also."
The surrendering of such a person is total. He attributes everything to existence: "I too am - as all doings are - existence's." Such a man will do all that is necessary in life - living, breathing, walking, standing, sitting, doing his duties, eating his food and sleeping at night. All these activities will be there, but there will be no doer within.
This is the only path. Let me repeat, the sage of the Ishavasya is perfectly correct when he declares that this is the only path. And the people who have really lived unaffected in this world - untouched, always fresh and new, as innocent as when they were born - are those who never accumulated, never nourished any sort of ego during their journey through life; who lived in a state of egolessness.
Ego means I am the doer, egolessness means surrendering - surrendering everything at the feet of existence.