Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What is Nishkamakarma?

"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it." ....................The Talmud

"Whatever the state in which I find myself at this moment, whatever the sense of the force I manifest, the highest possibilities are here, hidden by the thick screen of my passivity in believing in my self-sufficiency. My destiny begins when I feel the call of another force in me and respond to it voluntarily. This is my first voluntary act, becoming available to a reality that changes my purpose for living. I am here in order to hear this force, not to expect something from it or to appropriate it. I am here to understand the action that will create the possibility of a responsible life." ............Jeanne de Salzmann, "The Reality of Being"

In this existence we are obligated to action as we become manifest through the process of Samsara or rebirth which inherently carries our Karma imprints and therefore only through action the inherited karma can we be purified. This is the reason why both Vedic philosophy and the Hebrew text of Talmud say that "........You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."

What is Nishkamakarma? If we analyse the Sanskrit roots then we have; Nishkam/निष्काम is a sandhi of nih+kam or निः+काम. Here "nih" or "निः" means "without" and "kam/काम" means "kamna"/"कामना", i.e. any kind of desire. and Karma/कर्म means "work"/"action".
So, the term "Nishkam Karma" means "action or without desire" or "work without motive"

But this defeats the very purpose of doing any duty because we are always motivated to do any work because there is a specific intention. Hence desire or intention or motive is inherent to action in all living beings where the mind is involved. Even the tiniest of bacteria moves towards an ambience of survival. Hence survival or self preservation is a basic desire. Therefore in the context of defining desire in relation to human action, there has to be a qualification of which desires are to be done away with.
This is the area where the current knowledge of human existence would be useful. Through science and spiritual wisdom we are now aware that we live in an interconnected universe. Every manifestation is connected to the other.

In Buddhist philosophy, the text of Avatamsaka Sutra says:
"Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering "like" stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring"

This is a metaphor used to describe the interconnectedness of all being and hence any action that we do is reflected and imprinted on the universal consciousness field. Here actions includes its prime mover which are our thoughts. Any action that is not done for our own ego satisfaction, whatever it be, will have no effect on us and we become the source of higher consciousness.
Each Jewel has the range of potential from being an accumulator of gross negativity to being the infinite source of compassion and healing energy of the universe. 

Therefore in Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna teaches Karma-Yoga or Yoga of Selfless Action thus:
"With the body, with the mind, with the intellect, even merely with the senses, the Yogis perform action toward self-purification, having abandoned attachment. He who is disciplined in Yoga, having abandoned the fruit of action, attains steady peace..."

In today's world this is a Herculean task as we are swamped by the materialistic culture of having. This is fuelled by the insatiate hunger for having more in the false sense of happiness. But we have the infinite potential within us to move away and find our true life purpose. This is the essence of what Jeanne de Salzmann says in the quote cited above;
"............My destiny begins when I feel the call of another force in me and respond to it voluntarily. This is my first voluntary act, becoming available to a reality that changes my purpose for living........."

Let us be keenly aware to feel the tug of this inner force and respond in our movement towards the Divine as our true home is not this manifestation.

Rushing into action, one fails.
Trying to grasp things, we lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
will ruin what was almost ripe.
Therefore the wise take action
by letting things take their course.
Remain as calm at the end
as at the beginning.
Attached to nothing,
there is nothing to lose.
The wisest desire is non-desire.
Learn to unlearn.
Simply remind people
of who they have always been.
Caring about nothing but the Tao,
one thereby cares for all things. ........................Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching

Love to you all


  1. Yes I do agree that the one abandons the fruit of action is not looking for any thing for himself and thus gets away from bindings. This is certainly the path for getting into peace. Ramakrishnan