"He who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction is intelligent among men, he is a Yogi and a doer of all action."
The above words can be read in the Śrīmadbhagavadgītā in śloka 18 of chapter IV.1 This statement may come on a bit incomprehensible to those new to the Bhagavadgītā and thus shall it in this contemplation be elucidated by an interpretation. And this interpretation can be started by pointing out that the Bhagavadgītā is originally written in Sanskrit. And the original Sanskrit word or term that is translated here with the English word 'action' regards 'karma'.2 Indeed can in this śloka 'karma' be translated with 'action' but the term 'karma' in Sanskrit means a lot more than just 'action'.3 For many people the term will sound familiar as the concept of the law of cause and effect.4 Basically this law says that actions of a certain nature result in experiences of a corresponding nature (either before or after rebirth has taken place).5 Good actions lead to pleasant experiences and bad actions lead to unpleasant experiences. What one desires and thus strives for one attains.6
When explicating karma in its possibilities of good and bad it is postulated as dual in itself. However the concept of karma has itself also an opposed concept, namely that of dharma. The term 'dharma' has on itself a vast field of meanings,7 but can here be defined as 'right action'.8 Karma then can against this background be understood as 'wrong action'. So we have dharma as right action and karma as wrong action, which can again be divided into good action and bad action. That dharma is set as another order of action than karma means that dharmik action is not causal for future physical life experiences. Karma leads to rebirth to reap the fruits of one's actions9 but dharma bears no karmik fruits and leads thus to mokṣa or spiritual enlightenment.10 Dharmik action is action which is conductive for one's spiritual attainment.
Let us now return to the beginning of this contemplation where karma was translated with 'action'. When dharma is opposed to karma, making karma adharma, then if karma regards action should dharma be understood as inaction. Wrong action, karma, is action, and right action, dharma, is inaction. This remark should be understood against the background of the expanded meaning of karma, expanding from the meaning of 'action' into the larger meaning of 'action-reaction'. On the level of karma meaning 'action' should dharma be understood as 'right action' and on the level of karma meaning 'action-reaction' should dharma be understood as 'inaction'. The inaction of dharma refers to it not causing any reaction.
In the above section was dharmik inaction put opposite to karma. Confusing as it may be there is a form of karmik inaction that can be put opposite to dharma also. For the mere abstinence of performing an action may cause a reaction too and is thus seen as an action too.11 To avoid confusing this karmik inaction with the earlier mentioned dharmik inaction we shall term it 'unaction'. And like action has both karmik wrong action and dharmik right action does unaction have both karmik wrong unaction and dharmik right unaction. Note that no bad and good unaction is poned here since wrong unaction is seen here as simple action. A tabulation of what has been brought to the fore so far may be useful here.
|1) Karma / Adharma / Action||2a) Wrong Action & Wrong Unaction||3a) Bad Action|
|3b) Good Action|
|2b) Reaction||3a) Unpleasant Reaction|
|3b) Pleasant Reaction|
|1) Dharma||2a) Right Action & Right Unaction|
On level 1 we see karma or adharma or action opposed to dharma. On level 2a the karmik wrong action and unaction is opposed to the dharmik right action and unaction. On level 2b the karmik reaction is opposed to the dharmik inaction. On level 3a causes a karmik bad action a karmik unpleasant reaction. And on level 3b causes a karmik good action a karmik pleasant reaction.
With the above elements explicated we can make a start of our interpretation of śloka 18 of chapter IV of the Śrīmadbhagavadgītā. The śloka was translated as follows: "He who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction is intelligent among men, he is a Yogi and a doer of all action." This śloka can now be interpreted as follows: 'He who sees dharmik inaction in dharmik right action and right unaction, and karmik reaction in karmik wrong unaction is intelligent among men, he is a Yogi and a doer of all action.'
The above interpretation is not yet complete. It is stated in this śloka that one who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is intelligent among men, a yogi and a doer of all action. This śloka says firstly that one who sees thus has the power to discern between right and wrong and secondly that such a person is a yogi. A yogi is generally considered as one striving for spiritual realization but since this term in this śloka is used to refer to one with the power to discriminate between dharma and adharma it must be taken here as referring to one having reached the aforementioned ideal already.12, 13
Now how is such a perfected yogi a doer of all action? When a yogi realizes himself spiritually and identifies with the metaphysical ātman in his heart he also becomes one with the universal brahman, for these two are one.14 And this metaphysical brahman is not just considered as transcendent to this world, it is also considered as one with everything in it.15 Thus; every action done is done within the totality of brahman, and thus is the realized yogi that gained discrimination of dharma and adharma by identification with his ātman and with that with brahman also the doer of all action.16
With this additional explanation we may now come to the following interpretation of śloka 18 of chapter IV of the Śrīmadbhagavadgītā: 'He who sees dharmik inaction in dharmik right action and right unaction, and karmik reaction in karmik wrong unaction is intelligent among men, he is one with brahman and thus a doer of all action.'
May we also become such doers of all action.