Addicted to Action


As originally published in India’s premiere spiritual magazine ‘Life Positive’ (May 2016 Issue).


In spirituality, we have a term - karma and by extension we have a term - karma bandhana. Mostly we interprete karma as a deed, a deed that is bound to the law of cause and effect. Bandhana means bondage. So karma bandhana implies one being bound to the effect of one's deeds, negative as well as positive.


In Sanskrit, one word takes on multiple meanings depending on the context. Let's take another meaning of the word karma - 'action' or say 'taking action' rather than 'deed' or 'result of deeds'. In which case, the term karma bandhana takes on a very different meaning - BONDAGE TO ACTION.


Bound to Act.


Each of us is conditioned to act. We cannot not act. It's actually evolutionary. It comes from our survival instincts that got developed in the hunter-gatherer age. As primitive tribals, we had to be on guard all the time. The reptilian brain was always at work. The moment it would sense a predator or spot any type of trouble, we would leap into action. Lest how would we survive?


But we have moved on from the Nomadic age to the Agricultural age to the Industrial Age and now the Information Age. And as the game changes, the rules of the game should change as well. There is no longer life-threatening danger around us all the time. So we do not need to remain prone to anxiety nor retain the proclivity to action that typically comes from the Age 1.0 while we are already a long way into the Age 4.0.


The Business of Busyness


This proclivity to act causes us much trouble. One big trouble is that it keeps us busy all the time. One of my favorite philosophers Lin Yutang has famously told: A wise man is never too busy; a busy man is never too wise. Busyness is not a virtue as many of us are given to believe. Leisure is a greater virtue. All culture is a product of leisure.


The Calvinist virtue of hard work does not automatically imply that being busy is good. That's a distortion. One can be relentless even while one is going slow. There must be a reason why Workaholic sounds like Work-alcoholic. In the garb of 'Work is Worship', our culture has indirectly lauded workaholism. Many workaholics choose to call themselves karma yogis, whereas the truth can't be further than that. Krishna defined karma yoga as yogastha kuru karmani - take your actions from a space of yoga, from a space of ease. Workaholism is the polar opposite of ease.


The Virtue of Inaction


With this background, I want to propose to you a radical concept - inaction is higher than action. In the alpha culture that we live, the word inaction has gotten a bad rap. Because in a certain context, it means laziness. Some people choose to use the word non-action rather than inaction to distinguish it from laziness but then that's a matter of semantics. Besides, I don't wish to denigrate laziness either.


In the Ashtavakra Gita, Ashtavakra says a very important statement - Aalasi Shiromani - that the lazy person is the king amongst men. This is very profound. Counterintuitive but true. Particularly if you understand the pitfalls of action. As Osho says, no lazy person has ever waged a war in this world. How can he? That would make him unnecessarily active.


Whether or not we wish to inculcate some laziness consciously, but we should always remember that the idlers can often be as good as the hustlers if not better. Andrew Carnegie used to say that whenever he would have a complex problem, he would call upon the laziest person on his team knowing well that this person being an easy person, is hard wired to come up with the easiest solution and also quickly enough so that he can be done with the problem and can get back to his carefree space.


The perpetual time deficit


'Being bound to act' as we have seen is one half of what we call karma bandhana or the bondage of action. 'Action itself binds us' is another.




Have you observed that no matter what you do, work keeps adding up? Simple arithmetic suggests that the more you do, the less will be left on the plate for you to do. But it doesn't work that way. The arithmetic of action is different. The more you do, the more is created for you to do. Paradoxical but true. Suppose you take up a new project to increase your income. This singular action will lead to many actions in order to do this project enough justice. Most of us don't get this point and get caught up in more and more action. Work can go up ad infinitum.


This is the bondage that action begets. A wise man sees this dynamic deeply enough and refrains every once in a while from initiating fresh actions. One of the names of Krishna is anaarambhi meaning the one who doesn't start. How wise!


This is also one of the reasons why time management trainings thrive. Time management tools help you create time - time to do so many other important things that your business or profession requires. Now even if you create time, you are going to end up using it in activities that are going to create further work for you, leading to a fresh time deficit. This way you will never be able to escape the race against time, which is possibly one of the best ideals one should aspire for.


The trick here is to use the time management concepts to consciously use the freshly opened up time for leisure rather than for your further important work. This small flip can help you go beyond your otherwise perpetual race against time.


The gift of gratitude


There is this another problem with such addiction to action. It induces lack of thankfulness. Madame Curie famously told: We never see what we have done; we are always focused upon what we are yet to do. It is such a tragedy of life.


In such deep action-orientation, there is no leeway for gratitude - for all that we have already accomplished or for all that God has bestowed upon us. We are too busy asking of life rather than thanking life; asking of the universe rather than thanking the universe; asking of ourselves rather than thanking ourselves. Besides our appreciation and gratitude for everything, many more areas of life would benefit if we went slow on action.


Gifts in daily life


On the professional front, it gives us greater time for planning and enough perspective for big-picture thinking. It helps us focus on quality vis-a-vis quantity. It helps us build rapport with all at work. These are huge advantages.


Going slow on action gives us enough opportunity for work-life balance. It helps us deepen our immediate relationships to make them more intimate and meaningful. Our family and friends would be much happier if we become less workaholic.


A busy person is generally so preoccupied with various agenda driven by his mind, that his body and his spirit suffer. Lesser action-addiction also translates into greater time availability for consciously working on his body and his spirit, leading to improved health and accelerated inner transformation.


And most importantly, with tempered action-orientation, there will be time for all the simpler pleasures like putting your baby to sleep or chatting over coffee with an old school friend. These are pleasures that life could be replete with but we do not create time for. After all, nothing is more important than savoring life in its entirety.



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