We have no choice but to perform action. So it becomes important to know what we should do and what we should not do. The choice is between the types of actions to be performed. Swami Chinmayananda’s call was ‘We Can We Must’. But in this respect it is necessary to use our discrimination. We should not do everything we can. We can tell lies, steal, cheat, loot, and even kill. All this we can, but that does not mean we must.
First understand what we should do. Next, figure out what is possible to do and then act. In Chapter 3 of the Bhagawad Geeta Bhagavan first explains the types of actions which we should not do. First, we can just sit quietly and foolishly, refusing to act because of laziness or escapism; second we can perform actions which are immoral, unethical, illegal or unconstitutional – prohibited actions (nishedha karma).Third we can perform actions prompted by selfish desire for material gains (sakama karma). It is true that nobody can act without thinking of the gains, but if the desire is always for something material or gross, it becomes a problem. Like the person who in return for working for a spiritual organization expects to receive some monetary compensation! A story will better illustrate this point. Once a peon sitting outside an office was asked if the officer was inside. In response he stretched out an open palm! Only after the necessary amount was placed in it, did he answer the question. This is an example of a prohibited action as well as a selfish one.
By remaining inactive one may end up suppressing desires which can cause untold problems, or one can perform wrong actions and go to jail, or only continue to fulfill selfish desires, thereby creating more desires and greed. A selfish person though not engaged in illegal actions, only seeks material gains, nothing higher or nobler. Once a materialistic person asked his friend, given to fasting, the reason for doing so. The friend replied that he was fasting to acquire merits to go to heaven and there feast. He was fasting now to feast later! Even while fasting, his mind was on the feast. The other person said “You better feast now – how can you be sure you will go to heaven!” So all these are self-centred activities.
Bhagavan says that though all these karmas are possibilities, we should not perform such actions. The only actions we should do are the duties enjoined on us. Duties are wonderful – we don’t have to go in search of them, they find us! We have duties towards the family we are born in; duties associated with the school and college we attend. A job along with rights, salary and working hours, brings with it duties as well. So we have duties at home, to our educational institutions, in the workplace, in addition to social obligations, civic duties, and religious duties.
All these put together are called niyata karma. Niyata karma can be classified into two kinds: nitya karma or daily duties and naimittika karma, duties on special occasions. These occasional duties take precedence over daily duties. In general we all know our daily duties, yet we don’t do them properly because of our personal likes and dislikes. When we allow our likes and dislikes to interfere with the performance of our duties they become stronger. So much so that when faced with a difficult situation we are unable to determine our duty.
Summing up, Bhagavan says that action is a must. For a person who sits down doing nothing, even healthy living is not possible. Yet we have a great love for sitting idle. A simple story will illustrate this: in a classroom a teacher asked the students to write an essay on “If I were to become a millionaire”. She noticed that one student was not writing anything. When she questioned him, he answered, “That is what I would do if I were a millionaire – nothing!”
To clear our misconceptions, Sri Krishna has clearly explained the actions to be avoided and the actions to be performed.