Chapter 1 — Passively Act out Your Duties from Prior Lives
1 Rama asked, “Renouncing the idea of one’s personal ego results in the attendant evil of inertness and inactivity. This naturally brings on a premature decay and decline and the eventual falling off of the body. Then how is it possible, sage, for an indifferent person of this kind to practice his actions and discharge the active duties of life?”
2 Vasishta replied:—
Rama, giving up false ideas is possible for a living person, but not for one who is dead and gone. Now listen as I expound this truth which will greatly please your ears.
3 The idea of one’s personal ego is said to be an idealism by idealists, but the meaning of the word emptiness is the repudiation of that false notion. 4 Idealists say the essence of all substances is a creation of the imagination and they describe the idea of pure emptiness as giving up this false conception. 5 The best and wisest of men say that the idea of anything in the world as something in reality is mere imagination, but the belief that all things are an empty nothing displaces the error of thought from the mind. Since all things are reduced to and return to nothing, this alone is the ever lasting something.
6 Know your memory of anything is only your imagination, and its forgetfulness alone is good for you. Therefore try to blot out all your former impressions from your mind as if they were never impressed on it. 7 Erase from your mind the memory of all you have felt or unfelt, and remain silent and secluded like a block after forgetting all things whatsoever. 8 Continue your practice of continuous action with an utter forgetfulness of the past, because your habit of activity is enough to conduct you through all the actions of your life, as it is the habit of a half-sleeping baby to move its limbs.
9 It requires no design or desire on the part of an actor to act the part to which he is led by the course of his prior propensities, just as a potter’s wheel is propelled by its original momentum without requiring the application of continued force for its whirling motion. So, O sinless Rama, consider our actions to be directed by our previous impressions and not our present efforts.
10 Hence renunciation has become the pleasant tendency of your mind, without its inclination to the gratification of its desires. The leanings of men to particular pursuits are directed by the current of their previous inclinations. The predisposition of the mind is said to be the cause of the formation of the character and fortune of a man in his present state, which runs like a stream in its habitual course and carries all men like straw floating along with its currents.
11 I say that lack of desire is our supreme bliss and supreme good. I am proclaiming this with a loud voice and lifted arms, and yet nobody will listen to me. Why is it that none would perceive it as such? 12 The wonderful power of illusion makes men neglect their reason and throw away the richest jewel of their mind from the chest of their breast in which it is deposited. 13 The best way to renunciation is to ignore and deny phenomena, which is what I want you to do. Know that your disavowal of all is of the greatest reward to you, as you will be able to experience for yourself.
14 Sitting silently with calm content will lead you to that blissful state before which your possession of an empire will seem insignificant and only serves to increase your desire for more. 15 As the feet of a traveler are in continuous motion until he reaches his destination, so the body and mind of the covetous are in continuous agitation until his renunciation gives him rest.
16 Forget and forsake your expectation of reward for the result of your actions. Allow yourself to be carried onward by the current of your fortune without taking anything to your mind, like a sleeping man unconsciously carried on by his dreams. 17 Stir yourself to action as it occurs to you without any purpose or desire and without feeling any pain or pleasure. Let the current of the business conduct you onward like the current of a stream carries a bit of straw in its course. 18 Take no pleasure or pain to your heart from the work in which you are employed, but remain unconscious of both, like a wooden machine working for others. 19 Remain insensitive to pleasure or pain in your body and mind and all the sense organs, like sapless trees and plants in winter when they bear their bare trunks without sensitivity in their limbs.
20 Let the sun of your good understanding suck up the consciousness of your six external senses, just as sunshine dries up the moisture of winter plants. Continue to work with the members of your body like an engine is set to work. 21 Restrain your intellectual pleasures from their inclination to sensual gratifications, and retain your spiritual joy in yourself to support your life, just as the ground carefully retains the roots of trees in winter for their growth in spring season.
22 It is the same whether or not you continually gratify the cravings of your senses. They will continue unsatisfied in spite of all your supplies. The vanities of the world will profit you nothing. 23 If you move about continually like a running stream, or like the continuous shaking of water in a hydraulic engine, free from every desire and craving of your mind, then you are said to advance towards your endless bliss. 24 Know this as a transcendent truth, capable of preventing all your future reincarnations in this world: that you become accustomed to the free agency of all your actions without being dragged to them by your desires. 25 Pursue your business as it occurs to you without any desire or purpose of your own towards its object. Continue to turn about your callings, just like a potter’s wheel revolves round its fulcrum. 26 Think neither of the object of your action nor its reward, but know them to be equally alike whether you refrain from action or do it without desire for its result.
27 But what is the use of many words when it can be expressed in brief? The desire for results is the bondage of your soul. Renouncing your desire for results is filled with perfect freedom.
28 There is no business whatever for us in this world that must be done or abandoned at anytime or place. Everything is good that comes from the good God. Therefore sit quietly with your cold detachment before the occurrence of any event. 29 Think of your works as no works and take your abstinence from action as your greatest work. Remain quiet in your mind during both action and inaction, just as Divine Consciousness is in ecstasy amidst the thick of its action.
30 Know that unconsciousness of all things is the true yoga-trance which requires the complete suppression of mental operations. Remain wholly intent on the Supreme Spirit until you are one and the same with it. 31 When you identify with the tranquil and subtle spirit, without any sense of dualism and the existence of anything else, absorbed in thought of the endless and pure essence of God, then nobody can sorrow for anything. 32 Let no desire rise in your detached mind, like a tender germ sprouting in the sterile desert soil. Do not allow a wish to grow in you like a slender blade shooting in the bosom of a barren rock. 33 The unconscious and insensible saint derives no good or evil by doing or not doing any deed or duty in his living state or in his next life. 34 There is no sense of duty or abandonment of duty in the minds of the saintly yogis who always view the equality of all things and acts. Never consider their deeds as their own doings. Do not think they are the agents of their own actions.
35 Consciousness of individual ego and the sense of selfishness will never release a man from the miseries of life. Only his unconsciousness of these can save him from all sorrow. Therefore everyone may choose which of these he may best like. 36 There is no other ego or “me” other than the one self-existent being and God having all forms. Besides the essence of this transcendent being, it is hard to account for any of the many things that appear to be otherwise than Himself.
37 The visible world appearing so vividly to our sight is nothing more than the manifestation of the one Divine Essence in many, like the transformation of gold into the many shapes of ornaments. Seeing the continual decay and disappearance of phenomena, we ignore their separate existence. We acknowledge the sole existence of the one being who lasts after all and forever.