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Chapter 3: The Shape of Water

No matter how a person passes his life of a hundred years, he will do something, and if it is done with pride, it will blacken him. But this sutra of the Ishavasya tells us that there is a path which enables a person not to lose his purity, and where he is not affected by his actions, despite living in a coal-cellar. This seems impossible, but it is not impossible if we rightly understand the meaning of this sutra. A man can do anything, it says, but as long as he is the doer, he will be blackened. Only one alternative is available: to cease entirely to be the doer.

One cannot avoid actions. Actions will certainly be there as long as we live. It is a mistake to say, “Give up doing things so that there is no chance of being smeared by them.” Actions will be there till death. To breathe in is an action. It is not only the man who runs his shop who is involved in action; the beggar also is doing. It is not only the housekeeper who is involved in doing; the man who leaves his house and runs to the jungle is doing too. Their actions may differ, but this does not mean that the one’s is an action and the other’s is nonaction: both are actions so there is no point in believing we can protect ourselves from the coal-dust, when leaving it all is as much an action as living it all. By thinking thus, we will get nowhere. Giving up actions one runs away, but then that running away becomes one’s action. Action binds us fast.

There is only one way out of this predicament, and that is to find freedom from being the doer, even though we cannot free ourselves from doing. But how can we free ourselves from doing when the doing is going on? Shall I not become the doer when I am doing the action?

The Ishavasya tells us that even while doing, we can be free from being the doer. Ordinarily it appears to us that we can perhaps be free from becoming doers only if we give up actions. “I shall do nothing, hence I shall not become the doer.” But the Ishavasya tells us quite definitely that this is impossible. On the contrary, what is possible is that you go on doing things, but you remain separate from becoming their doer.

Don’t be doers! How can this be? We are acquainted a little with such action. To act on stage is to experience the possibility of doing without being the doer. Rama weeps aloud in the forest when Sita is lost. He runs from tree to tree, clinging to the trunks and crying, “Where is Sita?” Crying to the trees, the actor possibly wails more earnestly than Rama himself, and maybe more cleverly and skillfully too, because Rama had no opportunity for rehearsal. This actor has had plenty of practice. He performs the very same actions which Rama performed, but there is no doer behind them; there is only an actor.

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