Skill In Action

(The following post is a translated excerpt of Acharya Shree’s book कार्य कौशल के सूत्र )

A famous sentence of the Bhagwad Gita is- योग: कर्मसु कौशलम् ।
The sentence means that skill in action is called yoga. This is one definition of yoga. It can also be said that yoga is a tool to achieve skill in action. The question of skillful action or work comes into being when we know the purpose of the work we do.

Purpose of Work
Doing something is not a necessity. One’s need makes doing something a necessity. Without a purpose, an action has no significance. It is said- प्रयोजनमनुद्देश्य मन्दोपि न प्रवर्तते। This means without a purpose even a mad man does not do anything. What is our purpose? Fulfilling the various needs of our lives- food, clothing, education, medicine and etc. However, with the rise in needs, today, work has expanded.

What Is Skilful Action?
The present era has seen the expansion of businesses, the variety of work, and workload. With this expansion, the question of efficiency has arisen. However,  how to become efficient or skilled in action, is not just a question of our modern times but was a persistent question in our ancient times as well. The question is- what should we consider as an action of skill? A work that does not obstruct someone’s good is skillful work. If an action is performed to perfection, but at the cost of one’s health, then that action is not skillful in totality. Today, work has grown so much that people’s health is getting affected. More than physical health, mental and emotional health is getting affected. Skill is that, which gives some benefit but no or minimal loss. It should not become an Allopathic medicine that removes one disease and creates ten more diseases. A skillful treatment is that, which uproots a disease but doesn’t create new ones in the process.

The Question Is Of Limits
In the context of Indian thought, an important question is- what should be the limits for dharma, artha, kaam and moksha?( ie duty, wealth, desire, and liberation) It is said that the desires that obstruct the creation and collection of wealth, are not good. Collecting wealth is necessary for life, but a person should not get so stuck in the act of collecting wealth, that he cannot tend to his desires. And when one cannot maintain the purity of his soul and perform his duties, then desires and wealth become of a low status.

Another Aspect
We must ponder over various aspects when we talk about one’s capability or skill. Even if our skills and work have grown, we must pause and ask – is the work we’re doing affecting our health? Is it increasing our anger? If that is happening, then we cannot call it skillful work. In the context of a nation, it is often, said – the country is very efficient and it has thus, established its supremacy over the global market. There is no trouble in accepting this but we must look at its other aspect as well. If the same country has seen an increase in suicide and divorce rates and sees a rise in health problems, then can we really consider that country a skillful one too?  If work efficiency increases, so should the quality of physical and mental health. There must be a balance.

The Notion Of Development
Today, the notion of development has found a sole basis in things. The more we create and possess materialistic things, the more one is considered developed. Facets of consciousness have been ignored. Its value in comparison to things has been reduced to zero. There is development in every field of life, but there is no effort being put in the direction of making good human beings. Despite the lack of peace in our human race, there seems to be no concern for alleviating it. Whatever little concern is there, has fructified in the form of medicines and drugs. In this state, understanding the significance and art of skillful work is very difficult.

Test of Emotional Health
Poor emotional health removes the possibility of skill in action. Though there is no parameter by which one’s exact emotional health can be discerned, a person’s behavior can guide us into getting knowledge of one’s emotional state . Following are the four facets of behavior which can give us insight into one’s emotional health:
1. Peace of Mind
2. Humility
3. Unselfishness
4. Contentment
We must see whether one’s work  is taking away one’s peace of mind? Or is it obstructing one’s humble behavior? Is it making one egoistic and angry? Is it destroying our simplicity? Is it raising our greed to such an extent that the desire of possessing the whole world could also arise in us?

If you get any of these answers as yes, you are not doing your work with skill.

What is the purpose of our capabilities to work? At the end of the day, for what purpose is everything being done? If we look carefully, we’ll see that everything is being done for the comfort and happiness of people. But ironically,  people themselves are breaking down, meaning that there is no meaning to what we do.

Thinking, Deciding, and Acting
We must think different ways to achieve the ability to act skilfully. For this, we need to create a plan. Whatever work is to be done, do it with a plan. There is a famous sutra which gives guidance to achieving a task with skill. It says, there should not be much time gap between the stages of taking a decision, thinking it through, and executing it into action. Thinking about it today, taking a decision after an year, and executing it into action after five years, won’t do. There is a story in sanskrit literature- a few scholars were invited to dinner. Noodles were served. A scholar looked at the long noodles and thought – दीर्घसूत्री विनश्यति। Meaning one who thinks over a lengthy period destroys himself. The person fails at the work. Time sucks the juice out of an idea’s potential.

I am reminded of a story. Once a cow’s capacity to give milk reduced. She started giving one kilo of milk instead of five. The owner thought- there is a wedding after a month. Fifty kilos of milk will be needed in the wedding and the cow is only giving a kilo. Let me stop milking the cow for now and milk her for fifty kilos straight, on the day of the wedding. And so he waited but on the day of the wedding, it turned out that he could not even obtain a drop of milk in the container. He got confused as to where did the milk go?

When a work is performed post the apt time, it will most likely result in a failure.

The second principle of skillful action is- do not do anything in a hurry.
सहसा विदघीत क्रियाम् । Don’t do anything without thinking through.

Skillful Action Defined In The Context of Prekshadhyan
Let us now think in the context of Prekshadhyan. The first stage of skillful action would be- doing something with focus. The second stage would be- be thoughtless while you are doing something, go beyond the mind. We must first, learn to stay on a single point. Work towards a single goal and become one with what you are doing. Put your mind fully in whatever you are doing. There should be no separation between mind and work. There should be no emotional distance also. A person sits to work. If he feels anger or egoism while doing it, then the work will also get affected. When we are doing something, all kinds of emotional activities within us should be surrendered for the work. Unless there is no surrender, one’s skill in action does not rise. After surrendering, nothing is left.

The Kind Of Surrender That Is Needed
In an Arab market, slaves were being sold. A customer asked a slave- “will you come with me?”


“What will you do?”

“Sir, whatever you say.”

“Where will you stay?”

“Wherever you keep me.”

“What will you eat?”

“Whatever you give me.”

“Where will you sleep?”

“Wherever you ask me to sleep.”

The master continued to ask and the slave just gave one answer- whatever you say. A Sufi saint was standing nearby. Hearing this conversation, he was stunned. He thought to himself- a slave is so committed to his master and despite being my lord’s servant, I don’t even have comparable commitment. I must be surrendered to my lord to this extent. Only then will I meet Him. The one who wants to be successful in the path of spirituality, (s)he must pay attention to these words- तच्चिते, तम्मणे, तल्लेसे, तदज्झवसाणे, तदत्थोवउत्ते, तदप्पियकरणे ।
Meaning that when one ascends from the state of complete oneness to the state of complete surrender, then complete success will come.

Our focus takes many forms- focussing at a point or becoming one with it, dissolving the way sugar dissolves in milk, and complete surrender.

Live In The Present Moment

The Story of The Muni Rajrishi
Once upon a time there was a muni named Prassanchandra Rajrishi. He stood under a tree in the mudra of kayotsarg. Shrainik, the king of the country was passing by. And so did  a man by the name of Durmukh ( ie bad-mouthed), whose character coincidently matched his name. As soon as he saw the muni, he said- “So, he has become a muni. Now, he stands here with deceit. His son is losing against enemies in the battleground, and he is meditating .”

As soon as the muni heard this, his mind stuck at the fact- son is losing the battle. Not only did he lose his focus, the war scene started in his own mind. The war continued for hours. Despite the fact that there was no enemy, no army and no battle,  an intense war started happening within him that his life got associated with a war.

King Shrainik reached lord Mahaveer, and with a prayer asked him – dear master! Muni Prassanchandra is in deep meditation. If he dies at this point of time, where will he reach? Lord Mahaveer replied- in hell. Shrainik was surprised. He was neither able to believe the lord’s words nor disbelieve them.

On the other hand, a man named Sumukh (ie good mouthed) passed Rajrishi’s way. With praise in his voice, he exclaimed – “how great of you, Sir! Leaving your kingdom, you have chosen to become a muni and now, you are so absorbed in your meditation.” As soon as the word, saint, reached his ears he realised – oh! I have become a muni now. Whose kingdom? Whose son? Which war? His mind stabilised. He remembered his true nature and the whole situation changed.

Meanwhile, Shrainik asked Mahaveer again – “Sir, what is the state now?” Lord Mahaveer replied- “he has reached the ultimate. He has reached where he had to reach.”

Pure One-Pointedness
A lot of problems arise when we want to do something. Thoughts of memories and the imagination thereof,  one’s emotions, all of them obstruct a work. In order to augment skill in performing an action, it is necessary that we practice pure one-pointedness. One-pointedness should be there at a pure goal. Make your goal pure and focus on it. In terms of behaviour, purity means that one’s focus should not grow towards actions that have ill- bearing effects on others.

One way of inculcating pure one-pointedness is taking your attention towards the vishuddhi centre of our body. It helps in increasing one’s skill and efficiency. A very appropriate name has been given to it in yoga- the centre of vishuddhi or purity. The centre has several uses. The main purpose of the centre or chakra is to maintain a balance in the activities of elimination. It has been given a place of the Acharya. The meaning of Acharya is – being skilled in conduct and making others skilled in it. The chakra is very significant for purity and one-pointedness.

The Heart Of Skillful Action
That kind of skillful work must be developed which does not harm or exploit someone else, and does not hurt other’s good. In the context of Prekshadhyan, only this kind of work can  be called a work of skill. In the words of Gita, only this can be called yoga or skillful work. If we increase our work efficiency with respect to this truth, then it will be very beneficial for mankind.