सर्वाः शङ्काः परित्यज्य धैर्यमालम्ब्य शाश्व्तम् ।
महाकर्ता महाभोक्ता महात्यागी भवानघ ॥
After giving up all your doubts, cling to the truth, and you will become a Great Doer, a Great Experiencer, a Great Renouncer, O Rama! Yoga Vasistha VI
Moment after moment, life puts us in various situations and calls on us to act. Vasistha teaches Rama to adopt the attitude of a Mahakarta and Mahabhokta in order to live more fully. Is this teaching relevant for all of us absorbed and sometimes entangled in action? How can we shift from being a simple karta and bhokta to become a Mahakarta, a Great Doer, and a Mahabhokta, a Great Experiencer?
To start with, let us define what the words karta and bhokta mean in Sanskrit. A karta is a doer. We all have the sense that “I” am doing this action, I am the author of this particular action and not that action. I decided to do it, I initiated it and I am responsible for it. A bhokta is the enjoyer or rather the experiencer of the results of her own actions or situations, pleasant, neutral or unpleasant, unfolding in her life, moment after moment.
Then, we can distinguish three types of action – the action of the one acts while being overwhelmed by situations or inner pressures, the one who makes an attempt to be a true karta and the one who is a Mahakarta.
The first level is characterised by reaction and not action, as it goes along with the pressure of personal likes and dislikes, or ragas and dveshas. It is mechanical, impulsive and fraught with subjectivity, fear, anxiety and other afflictive emotions. It is devoid of any concern for others and is primarily preoccupied with the fulfillment of individual ragas and dveshas. In other words, ragas and dveshas run the show!
As I grow as an individual, I learn to become more conscious and concerned about others while trying to fulfill the agenda of my ragas and dveshas. At this second level, I ask myself: What is appropriate, what is just? This is different from the first level, where the question is: What do I feel like doing? or What will I do? Instead, I ask: What has to be done? What is appropriate in this situation? What ripples is my action likely to create on others and the world around me, given the web of interdependence? This is called being aligned to our svadharma, our personal dharma, and doing what is expected of us in the given situation.
Initially it could be still depending on societal norms (what behaviour is expected from a father/mother, citizen, employee/boss, son/daughter, etc.), but slowly, I become free from internal pressures, my immediate interests, my own longings and repulsions. I go beyond the fear of transgressing any form of authority, as I act from more dignity, from well-assimilated values emanating from my own depth. I am convinced I cannot act any more like a child living in his or her separate bubble. I am an adult living less and less in my subjective private world, and more and more in the world, as it is.
I am more in touch with what is asked of me, situation after situation, and ask myself in a dynamic manner: What has to be done? What is appropriate in this situation? And what I can hear more and more clearly is not the voice of authority, of an ideal or a model, nor the frightened or all powerful old “I” and its commandments. I now hear more clearly and surrender more and more often to the voice of my buddhi, my heart and my wisdom, telling me what is just.
Action at this second level is still dependent upon effort. Desires, likes and dislikes have become less binding but there is still an element of struggle, choice and deliberation, hesitation and conflict. When they all disappear, there is spontaneity, which is not uncontrolled impulsivity, but true freedom in action. That is the third level of action, where the karta has become a Mahakarta, a Great Doer. Paradoxically, this freedom is about surrendering totally to necessity, to what the situation calls for. There is no more choice or doubt; only one action is possible and it is the just, appropriate action.
To illustrate this, let us take the imagery of the actor. The actor goes totally with the script of the play. Everything is written in minute detail. While playing the role, the actor is aware that he is distinct from the role; he knows he is much more than the role. At the same time, the actor is engaged totally with the role; he deals with challenging situations, he is ruined, despised or betrayed by his family and friends, loses his dear ones, he even plays his own death on stage. While all this is happening, he is unshaken, totally serene as he knows he is not affected in any manner by anything because the challenges belong to the role only. And that is why he can congratulate himself and say “well done!” as he notices how much the audience is moved by his performance.
In the same manner, the Great Doer has given up his personal demands and limited perspective of what is. He is totally aligned to the Great Flow, the overall order of things. He is peaceful and serene in the midst of the challenges or tragedies the Great Script of the universe has put him through. There is no need of any prompter, like in a theatre, to tell him what to say and how to act. The prompter is totally internalised! This is because within that order, only one action emerges clearly from each situation, the just and right action. No fear or anxiety, no doubt nor hesitation, there is only the action flowing by itself. When there is no gap (not “even the width of a human hair”) between the order of things and the karta, then the karta with his usual load of fears of failure, vanity, shame, impatience or guilt is replaced by the Mahakarta.
With a lucid awareness of what brings him in this situation with his unique skills, background, capabilities and the necessity of the moment, he does what needs to be accomplished and thus plays his role fully. There is total freedom in action, or as some traditions called it, action in non-action, actionlessness in the midst of action.
To know more about what is a Mahabhokta, a Great Experiencer, look for the second part of this blog which will be posted soon.