Remember, actions can be of two kinds: one in which there is a doer, and the other in which there is an actor. If the actor replaces the doer, the action will continue on the surface, but there will be total transformation within. Acting does not bind you to the action, it does not affect you. It remains entirely outside, it does not enter within. It does not go deep within, it vibrates on the surface and then disappears. No matter how much the actor of Rama may weep and grieve, those tears do not come from his inner self. Usually he has to apply coal dust to make the tears fall, and if he does not use coal dust it is because he has learned to shed tears through practice. They do not come from the depth but from the surface. He shouts, he makes great noise, but it comes from his throat and not from his heart. The inner self remains absolutely untouched and unaffected. He passes through the coal-cellar, but not as a doer; he remains an actor.
Remember, it is the doer who gets covered in coal-dust, not the action. If it were the action that caught the coal-dust, then what the Ishavasaya says could not happen, what the Gita says could not happen. Then there would be no escape from action as long as one lived. Then one could be free from action only after death. Then it appears there would be no liberation as long as life persists. But how can one be free after death when one cannot be free while living? If one cannot be free while living, there is certainly no scope to find freedom after death.
If action itself can be smeared with the soot of life, then liberation is impossible. But those who search deep within say that the coal dust clings to the doer and not the doing. That is, it clings only when one says, “I am the doer,” when the emphasis is on the action and when I and the action are identified with each other. Only when the tarnishing happens – when the I becomes one with the action, and says “I am the doer” – only in such a situation does the coal-dust cover the doer; and then life is filled with darkness and blackness.
If there is no one within saying, “I am the doer,” and at the same time there is the knower who understands that the action is going on – that the actors have come together on the stage to enact the drama – then it makes no difference how great the stage is; let it be as wide as the whole world! It makes no difference that the curtain in the drama is raised only once at the time of birth, and is lowered only at the time of death. Nor does it matter that the drama is very long between the raising and lowering of the curtain. All this makes no difference; it does not affect you at all if you see it from within as a performance. If you carry this understanding within, then the whole world is a leela – a play, a drama, a stage for you – and life itself is like a story. Then we are actors, and nothing affects the actors.
This sutra of the Ishavasya says there is only one way for a man not to be affected while performing his duties in life, and that is to transform life into acting. But we are extraordinary people. We transform acting into life, but we do not transform life into acting. We try many times over to present our acting as our real life, and our repetitive actions actually become the driving forces of our lives. If we consult psychologists, they say that man’s obvious behavior is all cultivated action. It is all conditioning.