Karma Yoga (Part 2): Different types of actions

Actions can be broadly classified into three specific modes. These modes are directly related to the three gunas (roughly translated as the three aspects of the phenomenal world) called tamas, rajas and sattwa. This is a fascinating subject.

The Bhagavad Gita clearly points out the different approaches to work according to individual temperaments. It defines the lowest form of action, tamasic, as follows: “Action done in delusion and without due consideration of its consequences and the effort and materials required, and which may easily bring harm to others, is tamasic.” (18:25)

This type of action stems from general ignorance. In tantra, the individual who performs these types of action is classified aspasku bhava (instinctive man).

The next form of action, at a higher level, is called rajasic: “Action which is done for the fulfilment of personal desires, for the fruits of the action; which is done with much ego and much effort, is rajasic.” (18:24) This is the most common type of action in the world today. In tantra, an individual of this temperament is known as veera bhava (heroic, passionate and active man).

The highest form of action is called sattwic and is motivated by understanding. “Duty or actions done without passion, love or hatred, without consideration of the fruits, is sattwic.”

(18:23) This last form of action falls within the realm of karma yoga and leads to higher awareness. He is known as divya bhava (divinely inspired man) in tantra.

The aim of yoga is to gradually lead the individual from the tamasic states to the rajasic states, from doing tamasic actions to doing rajasic actions, and then progressively towards a predominantly sattwic state. Of course, there will be fluctuations between these different states: one will sometimes feel tamasic (lazy and dull), at other times rajasic (actively inclined) and so on. But through yoga it is possible to become predominantly sattwic in temperament. This is the launching pad to

higher states of consciousness. The culmination of yoga is to lead one to the experience of that which is beyond the gunas; a state which is beyond the classification of tamas, rajas and sattwa. This is calledgunatita in Sanskrit, which means that which is beyond the mind, the sense and the play of nature.

At this stage it is worthwhile pointing out that karma yoga does not result in lethargy and lack of interest in work. It is widely believed that only passion, financial benefits and other motives can impel people to work, and that without these inducements there will be a tendency to languish in a state of total laziness and inactivity. Of course, anticipation of reward does make people work – there is little doubt about this. Yet at the same time, this kind of work leads to incessant discord both in the outside world and in the inner environment of the individual. On the other hand, a person who is not motivated by thoughts of personal reward and who has clear insight (sattwic temperament) will realize his duty and do it. He will follow the actions that come naturally to his body-mind complex. He will not stop his work, for there is no need. At the same time, he will do his work far more efficiently than if he was motivated for selfish reasons. He will be able to work with the least fuss and with minimum clash of interests in association with other people. The sattwic type of person can nimbly dodge around obstacles which tend to block or confuse other people, perhaps because of pride or stubbornness. A sattwic man will think his way around problems as they arise. This is the boon of egolessness.

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