8.8 I Am Not The Doer

This sub-module is based on the teachings of James Swartz, Sundari (Isabella Viglietti) and Ted Schmidt.
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In sub-module 7.4 we explained the relationship between the Self and the Jiva through the example of the two birds on a tree.

We explained that the Self does not have any doership or enjoyership, but remains as a witness of the Jiva. The Self does not perform any actions nor does it enjoy the results of action, but by its mere presence causes the Jiva to perform actions and enjoy the results.

What does this mean?

This means, if I am the Self, and the Self is not a doer, I am not a doer. In fact, even the Jiva is not the doer. It just thinks it’s the doer because of ignorance. This is a very important teaching and it’s easy to miss its significance when we first come across it.

If enlightenment is Self-Knowledge what does Karma or action have to do with it?

Because reality is non-dual, Karma and the Self are intimately connected. Since everyone thinks that the Self acts, it is necessary to investigate Karma to see if it is actually involved in action.

If it is not involved in action, you are not a doer. If you understand that you are not a doer, your life will be happy and peaceful.

The 5 Factors Involved In Action

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The factors involved in every action are:

1. Physical Body

The basis of action is the body-mind-sense complex, because the instruments of action and perception are located in it. The body is the place where the Subtle Body expresses itself through desire, aversion, happiness, sorrow and knowledge.

Desire manifests as efforts to satisfy it. Aversion manifests as actions intended to avoid things. The perceptive instruments are located in the body and deliver information that produces pleasure and pain.

2. The Ego

The second requirement for action is a conscious being. The conscious being initiates action and takes responsibility for it. It is called the ego or the doer.

It does action so that it can enjoy the results. When it receives results, it is called an enjoyer, even if the results are unwanted.

3. The Subtle Body

The third factor is the means of action: the five organs of knowledge, the five organs of action, the mind that desires the result and the intellect that decides to perform the action. Together they are called the Subtle Body.

The ten organs correspond to the ten instruments. The instruments are in the physical body, and the organs in the Subtle Body.

4. The Prana

The fourth factor is Prana or energy. Without energy none of these activities are possible. There are five Pranas: Prana, Apana, Vyana, Samana and Udana. We discussed these five Pranas in sub-module 7.1.

5. Isvara

The fifth factor is the macrocosmic subtle and gross bodies, the whole of existence, or Isvara.

It is the field in which individual subtle and gross bodies operate. It is made of gross and subtle matter and the various forces that control the behaviour of the subtle bodies and the elements.

These forces or laws are all Isvara. Everything in the field behaves logically and impersonally. This fact makes the physical, psychological and metaphysical sciences possible.

If all these factors are required to produce Karma, how can the Self, non-dual Awareness, be an actor?

If it could make itself incomplete, it might complete itself by action, but it is a partless whole.

If it was limited in space, like an individual body, it could go to some place it was not. But, like space, it pervades every atom of the universe.

If it was impure, it could purify itself, but it is not made of parts.

When an individual says, “I am doing, thinking, feeling, remembering, dreaming etc.” he or she is deluded. Why? Because the doer – the ego – cannot be the doer, as it is only one of the five factors required for an action.

For the same reason none of the other factors qualify as a doer. If none of these five is the doer, who is the doer?

There is no doer?

Duality, which makes action possible, is only a belief that has no basis in reality.

Non-doership is rooted in the understanding that limitless conscious existence is by nature all-pervasive, perfectly full, a partless whole and impersonal. Because awareness is all-pervasive it has no “arena” in which to act and thus no background against which any movement or change, which is the hallmark of action, could be measured. Neither does it have any place outside of itself to which it could move or any change that could be brought about to its essential nature. Just as the essential nature of water remains unchanged by the appearance and activity of waves, so the essential nature of awareness remains unchanged by the appearance and activity of objects. Moreover, because awareness is both perfectly full and wholly impersonal, it has no motivation to act.

Ted Schmidt

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How Action Happens

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You come in the kitchen and see a stack of dirty dishes sitting in the sink. Before you wash them, a long series of actions have taken place.

First, Awareness in the form of attention flows out through the eyes and envelops the sink. This produces the thought, “There are some dirty dishes. I will wash them.”

To wash the dishes, hands are required. But hands cannot move themselves. They require energy. I need to breathe and blood needs to circulate through my body. Where does the energy come from? It does not manufacture itself.

And it is not conscious, so it cannot think the thought that caused the action. The thought supplies the energy.

Therefore, whatever actions take place, in so far as they are real, are a product of knowledge. But thought is not conscious either. Where does it get the energy to move the organs?

The thought came from the causal body. But the Causal Body is inert too. It is only capable of producing thought because it is illuminated by Awareness, another reason you are not a doer.

If any doing is taking place, consciousness illuming the causal body is the doer.

Action In Inaction

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The one who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is wise among human beings.

Bhagavad Gita

Life is never what it seems. For instance, you are standing at the shore of the ocean watching a large boat that left the pier twenty minutes ago and moving directly away from you.

When it gets to a certain point, it seems to be standing still, even though it is moving rapidly through the water. Even though nothing seems to be happening, something is happening.

It is common for spiritual people to misunderstand the teaching “I am not the doer.” Often they drop out and stop doing what has to be done, to their detriment.

But “I am not the doer” does not mean that the ego can attain enlightenment by not doing. Even when you are sitting still, you are acting.

A wise person sees action in inaction and does what has to be done.

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Inaction In Action

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At the same time he or she understands that nothing is happening. Things seem to be happening because we identify with our ever changing instruments of experience.

If you look at the moon on a cloudy, windy night it seems to be racing across the sky, even though it is relatively stationary. Although you are sitting still in your compartment, you seem to be moving when the train on an adjacent track pulls out of the station.

Movement, change, is apparent, not real. When you look at reality through the lens of time, it seems to change.

An eon is essentially stationary from the point of view of an individual lifespan, but a millisecond passes in a flash. One minute of excruciating torture seems like an eternity, while a minute at an exciting movie goes unnoticed.

Time like space, is an artificial distinction superimposed on Awareness in an attempt to structure a reality that has no form.

If we analyze a conscious being in terms of time, nothing actually happens throughout its life, although it seems to. We look out of our aged bodies today just as we did when we looked out of our vibrant youthful bodies as a five year old.

The mind still generates emotions, the intellect continues to think, and the energy systems continue to function, but they leave no mark on us.

If they leave no trace, can they said to be real? The best we can do is to say that they are apparently real.

If the Self is not the doer and the ego is not the doer and the field is not the doer, there is no doer. Awareness shines on the field and all the objects in it seem to dance. Action apparently happens, but it is not caused by anybody.

If you know this, you act without thinking that you are acting. Seeing, you do not see. The eyes, blessed by the presence of Awareness, see. Hearing, you do not hear. Walking, you do not walk. Thinking, you do not think.

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Vasanas And Gunas Cause Action

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If you were the thinker/feeler you would be able to predict and control your thoughts and emotions, but you have no idea what they will be. They arise automatically out of the Causal Body and appear in the Subtle Body without permission.

When you do not know that you are whole and complete, you identify with the desires and fears that appear in the Subtle Body and do actions you think will make you feel complete. This creates tendencies or Vasanas that predispose you to action. So you become an ego, a doer.

Vasanas are located in the Causal Body and are not available for perception. The Causal Body is composed of the three Gunas. The Vasanas arise out of the Causal Body, so a particular Vasana is coloured by the Guna from which it arises.

Desire, for instance, comes from Rajas. It appears in the Subtle Body as the thought “I want”. It causes action. “I hate you” is a thought born of Tamas. It doesn’t motivate action, as it is just a mood. It has to pair with Rajas to motivate action. “I know the tree” is a thought born of Sattva.

It is the tendencies, not you, that actually cause action. You can neutralize some of your tendencies, but you cannot totally eliminate them because there is a cause and effect relationship between an action and its result; Vasanas are produced. So you cannot refrain from action.

Thoughts spontaneously arise within the scope of the mind as a consequence of the Vasanas associated with the mind-body-sense complex that constitutes the apparent person you seem to be. The apparent person neither generates the thoughts nor has control over what thoughts arise within the mind. Thus, the apparent person is not the thinker in the sense of being the source or initiator (i.e., doer) of the thoughts, but is rather simply the witness of them.

Ted Schmidt

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Karma Yoga – Negating The Doer

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When the mind is controlled by the “I am doing or have to do” thought, it is completely extroverted, turned away from the Self, towards objects. When it is still and contemplative, it is turned inwards, towards the Self.

The aim is not to stop doing, because that is not possible – the Jiva will experience and do until the day it dies. The aim is to neutralize the “I am doing/have to do” thought.

As a beginner, the practice of Karma Yoga lessens the pressure of the Vasanas and the weight of doership. Karma Yoga as a practice is specifically for the mind identified with the doer in order to negate the doer.

Karma yoga is not about doing or not doing, but surrendering the results of action because one has the knowledge that the field of existence (Isvara) is in control, and not the Jiva.

This does not mean that appropriate action for a given result is not taken. As the doer you are just one factor in many that are the constituents of action.

The point of Karma Yoga is not to destroy the doer or, in some cases, even its sense of doership. Karma yoga is meant to clear the mind of enough likes and dislikes until it becomes composed enough to do sustained Self Inquiry.

Only Inquiry removes the problem of doership because it shows that you, the Self, cannot be the ego (doer) that is known to you. When that is clear, the doer can appear in you, even with a trace of doership, but you do not identify with it.

Karma Yoga is the most important of all spiritual practices. But the longer Karma Yoga is practised, the more it becomes just pure knowledge.

No matter what one is doing, contemplating, meditating or acting in the world (even not doing is a doing), doing arises from the knowledge that you are not the doer. Doing happens.

You could be very busy doing whatever you need to do or sitting in silence meditating, dispassionately observing the doer doing or meditator meditating/contemplating. Nothing touches you, Awareness.

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If you look at the Self from the standpoint of the body, it is a doer, but from its own viewpoint it is purely a witnessing presence. In the presence of Awareness, actions seem to happen.

Although the Self is conscious, it has no personal will. It cannot act, because there is nothing other than it.