What is desireless action

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Question: Acharya Ji, how will I get motivation to do some work, if I am not attached to the result of the work?

Acharya Prashant Ji: When you come to this hall, you are probably prompted by some desire, aren’t you?

Listener: Yes.

Acharya Ji: There are desires, there are calculations, there are pluses and minuses, you probably weigh the pros and cons. All those things are there. Sometimes there is a nagging question you want to get rid of, therefore you come. That’s how the thing mostly starts. That’s how the thing mostly starts. So this ‘sakaam karma’(the desire-oriented action). Your movement in this hall is motivated by a desire.

You want something, therefore you ‘do’.

This is the common ‘sakaam karma’.

You ‘do’ because you want.

So, the action is a means of fulfilling the desire.

This is normal ‘sakaam karma’.

That’s how things are at Twelve Noon. You are sitting ready to fire your questions. You have a purpose in being here. What is the purpose? – ‘I want my questions answered.’ You have a definite purpose. That’s Twelve noon.

Now, how is it like at 1:30 p.m.? You came with a question, but the question has not reached here. You do not even intend to ask the question anymore. At Twelve Noon, when you were listening, you were listening with an objective. What was the objective? The resolution of the query. And how are you listening at 1:30 p.m.? You are ‘just’ listening. You are ‘just’ listening.

Something is still happening. But the objective is lost. Now the ‘happening’ itself is very juicy. Now the ‘happening’ is not means towards an end. Now the means itself has merged with the end. It is as if, the means has moved into the end, or the end has come to the means to bless it.

Now there is no distinction. Now you are not saying that let the others’ questions be answered fast, so that the speaker may take up my question. Hence now, there is no gap. Hence now, there is no waiting for the result. Hence now, time has stopped for you.

This is ‘nishkaam karma(desireless action)’ – the ‘doing’ is not for some objective outside of itself.

The ‘doing’ itself is the objective.

What do you work for? You work for satisfaction. Call it ‘deep contentment’. Right? You work, for the sake of that. And therefore, work is never very satisfying, because work to you is not the last thing. Work is just a middleman, for the sake of a result. Therefore, work is just a necessary evil for you.

Had it been possible, you would have removed the work, the process, the time interval, from between, and you would have said, “Is it possible to come directly to the result?” And that is why man wants to keep gaining in efficiency.

Man wants to keep gaining in efficiency.

Do you see what is this continuous movement towards more and more efficient processes, machines and systems? It is because man works for a purpose. It is because, the work, and the time invested in work, is itself, not very likable. So man says, “Minimize the work, and maximize the result.”

‘Nishkaam karma(desireless action)’ means – work is life.

Work is life, anyway.

Even when you ‘think’, you are not working, you are actually working. So, no point fooling oneself, with the effort to minimize work.

Even when you ‘think’, you are having leisure, you ‘are’ actually working.

Therefore, why not work in a way, that transcends work.

That is ‘nishkaam karma’.

Work cannot be avoided. Life is work.

You are working, even when you are sleeping. You are working, even when you think, you are relaxing. Why not choose work, with such deep discretion, that work does not remain a load that you have to reduce, work no more remains something that you want to outsource?

Why not come to a situation, where you are no longer seeking happiness, in the reduction of work? Have you seen how the common man celebrates, when his work burden is reduced? That is ‘sakaam karma’.

Have you seen how students like to achieve results, without working? Were it possible to achieve hundred percent marks, without laboring at all, students would have been the happiest? Because as a student, or as a worker, you find no joy in the process. For you, joy is a destination, mostly. For most people. That is ‘sakaam karma’.

Now, we will come to the more horrifying part of it. Whenever, work is a means to an end, ‘the end’ is never really achieved. Ha! We are beaten both ways. First of all, we expended a lot of time, trying to reach – an end. And even if we somehow manage to reach that end, what do we discover? – ‘Is this where I wanted to reach?’ And then you proceed towards, other destination. And that is what is called, ‘the vicious cycle’.

So, those who work towards ‘an end’, find that they are defeated both in the work, as well as in the end. Double defeat. And those who work, without ‘an end’, those who work, because the work itself is service, devotion, they win doubly. First of all, work is celebration. Secondly, work is the end. So, you are celebrating your way to the success. 

You are dancing towards victory. You are not dancing ‘towards’ victory, you are dancing, ‘in’ victory. You are continuously victorious, and you are continuously celebrating.

Any takers?

And compare this to the picture of the one who is striving, toiling, fighting, with the dream of some distant success in his eyes. Remember that the success that he dreams of, is merely his concept. It is an image, because he has not yet come to it. Therefore, the success that he is talking of, is merely an image.

When you come to it, you find that it simply does not match your expectations. Double defeat! First of all, you are striving, toiling, and making life hell for yourself. Though with the pride, with the vanity, that you are a fighter. That you are a warrior. You will have that satisfaction.

So, it may keep egging you on, for a very long time. Probably, even for the entire lifetime.

Listener 1: So, it is all about the journey, and not the destination?

Acharya Ji: The destination is everything, but the destination cannot be distant. The destination has to be the first step in the journey. It is not as if, it is only about the journey, and not the destination. Obviously, the destination comes first. The journey begins, upon reaching the destination.

So, reach the destination first, and then keep traveling. Destinations, upon destinations. Do not travel as if the destination is elusive, and faraway.

Listener 2: Acharya Ji, how to make my work devotion?

Acharya Ji: The work has to be worthy of devotion, first of all. Therefore, choose your work very, very carefully, everyday.

Listener 2: Is it a matter of discretion?

Acharya Ji: Obviously, it is a matter of discretion. Obviously.

It is not ‘the work’, it is the destination that is commanding the work.

It is the destination that is commanding the work.

So, what is ‘the work’ that you are talking of? – That’s what you must look at.

The destination has to be absolutely compelling.

So very compelling, that you cannot even entertain the ‘thought’, that is is distant.

If you want something really desperately, do you want it five years hence, or right now?

Listener 2: Right now.

Acharya Ji: The destination has to be that very attractive. Not only attractive, it has to be that very indispensable.


Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session:  What is desireless action? || Acharya Prashant (2019)


Editor’s Note: To receive regular updates on WhatsApp regarding wisdom articles by Acharya Ji and to get an opportunity to connect to him directly, click here

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