This subject of work and action combined with meditation is the main theme of the Bhagavad Gita, the classical yogic text par excellence. It constantly emphasizes that one should never renounce actions, only their fruits. One should only renounce attachment to actions and work. The Bhagavad Gita urges the spiritual aspirant to work according to the dictates of his dharma (role in life that comes naturally, that suits one’s abilities) but at the same time one should try to become more aware of the inner psycbic world through meditational practice. In this sense, the Bhagavad Gita is really discussing the balance of the ida and the pingala, without actually mentioning them by name. The whole theme of the Bhagavad Gita is balance of ida and pingala.
The importance of action and work in spiritual life is clearly illustrated by the following experience related to us by Swami Satyananda: “Before being initiated as a swami I used to lapse into a state of unconsciousness; I could never go past this state of laya. Eventually I went to seek the guidance of Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh. The first thing he told me was: You have to work; you have to work out your samskaras (mental impressions)’.” He could have said: “Go and practise meditation for a few years in a quiet place,” but he did not. He said: work’, for he knew that this is the only way to resolve inner disharmonies. Swami Sivananda knew that meditative practices have to be balanced by external action; the ida and pingala have to be balanced. The mind has to be opened up and purified through both work (karma yoga) and meditative practices.
If you come to this ashram you will also be expected to work throughout the day. This is not to provide cheap labour for the ashram or for the sake of the ashram upkeep, for there are many other people available and willing to do the work necessary for the smooth functioning of the ashram. You will be expected to work for your own sake, for your spiritual progress. This work is one of the most important aspects of ashram life, and actually the biggest problem is not finding people to do work, but finding enough work to keep people busy. This work is important in gradually purifying the mind, especially in the early stages of spiritual life.
Many people try to completely absorb themselves in meditative practices. They cease to take an active part in the world and often retire to a quiet retreat. Many people, sincere and genuine people have done this for years and they have achieved nothing, apart from frustration and disillusionment. They have followed only the ida path. They have failed to gain the illumination that they so desperately wanted. They did not realize that illumination cannot come until one’s karmas have been worked out. One has to exhaust and express the inherent desires and ambitions, otherwise they merely remain in a dormant state in the mind. The samskaras – latent problems, drives and attachments to the enjoyments of the world – have to be worked out. This can only be done by interacting and working in the world, by following the principles of karma yoga to the best of your ability. This is the means to clean the mind of its latent problems. This is the pingala aspect. At the same time one should also follow the path of ida, by trying to be aware while working and acting, and by trying to expand inner awareness through meditational practices. This is the way to spiritual unfoldment. It is not by becoming a hermit and rejecting the world.