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The fine line between Satvik and Tamsik action || Acharya Prashant, on Bhagavad Gita (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
16 min
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नियतं सङ्गरहितमरागद्वेषत: कृतम् ।

अफलप्रेप्सुना कर्म यतत्सात्विकमुच्यते ।।

niyataṁ saṅga-rahitam arāga-dveṣhataḥ kṛitam

aphala-prepsunā karma yat tat sāttvikam uchyate

An ordained action done without love or hatred by one not desirous of the fruit and free from attachment is declared to be Sāttvika.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 23

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यत्तुžकामेप्सुना कर्म साहङ्कारेण वा पुन: ।

क्रियते बहुलायासं तद्राजसमुदाहृतम् ।।

yat tu kāmepsunā karma sāhankāreṇa vā punaḥ

kriyate bahulāyāsaṁ tad rājasam udāhṛitam

But that action which is performed desiring results, or with self-conceit and with much effort, is declared as Rājasika.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 24

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अनुबन्धं क्षयं हिंसामनपेक्ष्य च पौरुषम् ।

मोहादारभ्यते कर्म यतत्तामसमुच्यते ।।

anubandhaṁ kṣhayaṁ hinsām anapekṣhya cha pauruṣham mohād ārabhyate karma yat tat tāmasam uchyate

That action is declared to be Tāmsika which is undertaken through delusion, without heed to the consequence, loss (of power and wealth), injury (to others), and (one’s own) ability.

~ Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 25

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Questioner (Q): Here Shri Krishna says sāttvika action is done without desire of the fruit, and then he says tāmsika action is done through delusion without paying heed to consequences.

It seems Shri Krishna has drawn a very fine line here. Please help me understand the right action in light of the above verses.

Acharya Prashant (AP): Good question. So, on the one hand, Shri Krishna is saying here that in sāttvika action, you do not care for the results. On the other hand, the tāmsika person too has been defined as the one who does not care for the result. He continues in his self-destructive ways without caring for the results at all.

So, the questioner is saying, “What is this fine line that Shri Krishna seems to have drawn here?” Good question.

You see, there are two reasons, two possibilities, two scenarios when you don’t care for the results. One is, because you know that now you are absolutely right, because now you have no option left. Therefore, there is no point caring for the results. This is the only thing that you can rightly do. So, what’s the point in talking so much about the results or bothering so much about the results? That is one possibility. That’s the sāttvika possibility. You are deeply contented just doing what you are doing. It’s all right now.

Then, there is the tāmsika person. The tāmsika person is compelled not to care for the results for reasons that are totally opposite to the sāttvika case. The tāmsika person gets deeply bitter and harmful results for being what he is and doing what he does because that’s the nature of his being. Everything that he does actually brings hurtful consequences upon the tāmsika person. Now it is extremely important for him not to care for those consequences if he is to continue remaining the deluded one that he currently is. Otherwise, the very force of the results would show him a mirror. Otherwise, the very tribulations of life would compel him to change. But he doesn’t want to change.

Therefore, what’s his tagline? “I don’t care for the results.” This is not his joy. This is his compulsion. He will have to deliberately and stubbornly ignore the results, because the results are shrieking to him, “You are living a very bad life.” The moment he pays attention to the results, he'll have to change. But his deep and unyielding ego refuses to change even while suffering deeply—that is tāmsikta. What's the definition of the tāmsikta? You are in the wrong place and you don’t even want to leave that place. You are living badly and you are saying, “This is what is called the right life.”

That's why the rājasika mind is better than the tāmsika mind. The rājasika mind says, “I’m not alright. I need to do something to become better. I feel inferior. I feel incomplete. I need to rise. I need to achieve.” That’s the rājasika mind. The rājasika mind at least admits that it is not alright. The rājasika mind at least admits that it needs to change and improve. Though it tries to improve in a unwise and foolish way, but at least that admission is there. “I’m not okay.”

The tāmsika mind is a tough nut to crack. “I’m alright.”

“But you’re not alright.”

“But I’m alright!”

“But you are unhappy.”

“Oh, I am joyful.”

“But then, yesternight you were wailing and sobbing.”

“In that is my pleasure!” That kind of an argument.

“I made a video. You are frothing in the mouth and flowing in the eye. Your face was just froth and tears, and you are cursing your life. Here, I shot it.”

And what does the fellow say? “In that is my pleasure. I love to wail. I love to yell. I love to shriek. I love to cry. Tears give me a high.”

And now, how do you talk to this fellow? He says, “I’m alright. I’m alright as I am.” In his own eyes, he is some goddamn philosopher, especially after he is a bit high. It's very-very important for him—it's a matter of survival— to not to care about the results, to not to even inquire into the results. The day he starts inquiring into the results, he will be forced to change.

Therefore, I deeply oppose this neo-pop spiritual culture of living in the present. I do not want people not to care about the results, because not caring for results is alright if you are a sāttvika mind or if you have transcended the ego. Then it is alright to not to care for results. But if you are a rājasika person or a tāmsika person, as 99.9% of people are, then you need to be very-very conscious of the future, and of the results of your actions.

The tāmsika mind desperately wants to avoid looking at the consequences of his actions. And that is the reason why the saints, if you visit their literature, constantly, repeatedly reminded us to think of the results of our actions, and they reminded us to think of death. They constantly kept saying, “Think of death.” Now, all that is in the future, but today’s pop spirituality is about ignoring the future totally. "Don’t think of the future, live in the present. Don’t think of the future, live in the present." Then why were the saints continuously telling us to think of death? Death is always in the future. Right now, you aren’t dead.

It is because the saints knew better. They knew who they were talking to. They knew they were talking to rājasika and tāmsika minds. And the rājasika and tāmsika minds need to be cautioned of the future. That’s the tāmsika mind’s ultimate fantasy—to do what he wants to do and then not bear the consequences. Is that not a great fantasy? “I’ll do what I want to do. I’ll consume what I want to consume, and I won’t even have to foot the bill.” The saints are saying, "The bill will need to be paid with due interest—mind the bill!"

But it’s a very unfortunate trend these days living in the now, living in the present. No wonder it is coming from the center of consumerism and is only serving to promote a lot of consumerism. "Consume right now, don’t worry about the consequences." No wonder the country this cult is coming from is the most debt-ridden country in the world. No wonder the society this cult is coming from carries the highest per capita debt on its head.

Do you know about the average credit card dues of the common American? They are the highest in the world. "Spend on your credit card. Live in the present. Don’t worry about the future."

In fact, the 2008 crisis was in many ways a crisis of credit. Loans had been given to people who were in no condition to pay them back. And what did those people do with those loans? They lived in the present. They enjoyed that money to not think about the future, and be joyful in the present. And when the banks wanted their money back, there was no money to be had back. And now the banks didn’t know what to do, and then they started rolling one after the other, declaring bankruptcy. On paper, they all had a lot of assets. "So much has been lent to this person, and that person owes so much to me." All that was on paper. In reality, nothing—because those debts had all been happily consumed. So, when the bank said, “Now please return my money,” (gesturing indicating nothing) that is ‘now’, ‘in the present’!

Be very conscious of your action and its results. You know, sometimes people ask me, “How do we know where our actions are coming from? You keep on talking, sir, about the importance of acting from the right center. But how exactly do we determine which center our action is coming from?” That’s the question people often ask. And I say, "The center your actions are coming from, is probably a bit hidden. It is an inner thing and you don’t have the eyes to look inwards. But you can at least pay attention to the results of your action."

And when you pay attention to the results of your action, then here is a formula for you. The result of your action is the exact point your action is coming from. The source of your action is exactly the same as the consequence of your action. So, watch the consequences of your actions, and you will realize what the source of the action is. If you have done something, just figure out what the net result of that entire activity or episode was. And then, you should know that the entire episode happened just for the sake of that particular result. That was your hidden intention.

For example, you do something, and in some convoluted way, finally it leads you to, you know, break away from a friend. That’s the net output of that episode. Now, if you have to ask, “Where did my actions come from?” then you should know that your action actually came from your subconscious desire to get rid of that friend. That’s all that you wanted. The beginning is the end. The result is the source. If you cannot know the source, know the result.

We are very complicated and deceitful beings. You will never know why you are acting in a particular way, because you don’t want to admit that to yourself. But one good way of realizing why you act as you act, is to just see the final result of what you are doing. Obviously, you can turn back and say there’s nothing called a final result. Alright, look even at the intermediate result. It is for the sake of that intermediate result that you are doing what you are doing.

Nothing happens coincidently in the realm of the ego, for the ego is the doer. The ego does not let things happen; it does them. It doesn’t let things happen, does it? So, when you are doing something, rest assured that the output is something that the ego wanted. Even if the output appears shocking, even if you want to claim that it’s quite an unintended output or outcome, that unintended outcome is not really unintended—you wanted it, you caused it. But you caused it in a very hidden way, in a very abstruse way because you didn’t want to admit to yourself that you are directly doing it or intentionally doing it. And that is one solid reason why you must mind the consequences, because the consequence will tell you about your center. If you look even at the gross actions and their results carefully, you will come to know of the subtle forces operating within.

So, something has been happening with you over the last one month, let’s say, and you narrate the entire story to someone. And if that someone is wise, that someone will ask, “Alright, what’s the net result of all this that’s been happening with you?” And you say, “Well, the net result is…” He’ll say, “Okay, I’ll help you out. Compared to one month back, how have things changed for you right now? What has changed?” And you’ll say, “Alright, now that’s easier to answer. These are the three things that have changed over that last one month.”

Then that someone will tell you, “It is with the intention of changing these three things that you have been acting the way you have been over the last one month. It is not that your actions have coincidentally brought about this result; it is because you wanted this result deep within, hence you have been acting the way you have been acting. You are just fulfilling your deep desires.” So, always ask yourself, “All this happened ultimately to what result, to what effect, to what end?”

Never ignore the consequences. Never. Keeping a check on the consequences is a great way to self-reflect. Otherwise, how will you know who you are? Unless you know what you desire, how will you know who you are? And how will you know what you desire? By seeing what you get, because you are only getting what you are desiring. That’s the way of the ego; it proceeds on desire. So, see what you are getting from life continuously as a result of your actions—that’s what you are desiring. And who are you? You are your desire. You are the quality of your desire.

Just see what is it that you’re getting.

Just see which relationships are strengthening.

Just see who is it you are drifting away from.

Just see where you are found.

Just see where you are not found.

Just see finally what’s the result of all this.

Because stories are complicated, you know. If you get lost in the details of the stories, you will never come to know the Truth. So, keep the story aside, just ask for the conclusion. "What’s the conclusion? What happened as a result of all this that you are trying to tell me?" Ask!

“So, this happened and that happened, and then he brought this, then I did this. And then, I said that, then he met me there, and then we agreed and then we disagreed. And then, we fought and then, we hugged. And then, I sent him this letter and then he wrote me a mail,” and a thousand things. Alright. Please conclude. “Well you see, then we broke up.” So, fine. That’s it. This is exactly what you wanted, and for the sake of this result, you enacted the entire drama. Maybe not intentionally, just subconsciously. But this is the result that you ultimately wanted anyway.

So, be particular about the consequences. That is the reason why the wise ones gave us the principle of karma. What did the principle of karma imply? “Oh, you’ll have to pay up. You can’t go scot-free.” To the layman, the principle of karma is just the principle of consequences. And it’s very important that most people are mindful of karmaphal (fruits of action). What is karmaphal? Consequences. It is only now that the time-tested theory of karma is being rubbished aside in favor of pop theories of ‘living in the now’ et cetera.

‘Living in the now’ is something very-very special, applicable only to those already liberated. Only the ones already liberated have the right to live in the now. The others must be very conscious of the future. It is by remaining conscious of the future that you will ultimately get freedom from the future. It is by being extremely conscious that you will gain freedom from consciousness itself. It is by minding your actions and their results, that you will ultimately gain freedom from the actor. How else will you gain freedom from the actor? If you do not know the actor, will you be able to be free from the actor?

What is your bondage? Your bondage is ignorance. Your bondage is that you do not know the actor, and that’s why there is no freedom from the actor. And how will you know the actor? The actor is hidden, subtle. The actor doesn’t have a face. How do you know the actor? By looking at the actions. But in one's eyes, his actions are anyways always alright. So, how do you know your actions really? By looking at the results of the actions. So, looking at the results of the actions is one foolproof way to know the actor, and when you know the actor, that gains you freedom from the actor.

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